How Can I Make My Marriage Last? Part Two

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How Can I Make My Marriage Last? Part Two

In my last blog entry, I dropped some science in your lap about John Gottman’s 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions. What you did with that info is your business, but I hope you went home and made some love bank deposits. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out part one HERE.
Today I’m going to share some more insight from Dr. Gottman’s research in the Love Lab. As you might remember, the Love Lab was a place where all kinds of couples, happy and not-so-happy, were screened, interviewed, and observed to help determine what makes relationships work. During the course of his studies Dr. Gottman observed four communication styles that prove detrimental to relationships and can even predict their demise. He calls these interactions the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These four communication styles need not only to be eliminated from your relationship, but also replaced with healthy and constructive patterns of interaction. See if you recognize any of these Four Horsemen:
The first Horseman is criticism. Criticizing one’s partner is like launching an attack at the core of who they are as opposed to making an appropriate complaint about a specific behavior. It tends to run them down and communicates a lack of respect.
“You’re a terrible driver–you’re going to get us killed!”
“Quit being so lazy and come help me with this.”
“You never consider what I want in this relationship. I wish you’d stop being so selfish!”
“You’re always so annoying when you go on and on about your work to the neighbors.”
Do you hear how each of these statements casts judgement against the other person? In doing so, the true concern gets lost in translation.
“You’re a terrible driver,” instead of “I’m feeling scared. Can you slow down?”
“You’re lazy,” instead of “I’m feeling overwhelmed with this by myself. Could you help?”
“You’re selfish,” instead of “I’m not feeling counted. Would you consider a compromise?”
“You’re annoying,” instead of “I’d like to talk about some other things. Would you mind?”
I’d be willing to bet that each of us has become critical of a partner at some point in time. The key is to recognize it and begin eliminating it from your repertoire. In part three of this series we will discuss how to replace criticism with a healthier style of communication.
According to Dr. Gottman, the second Horseman is the single greatest predictor of divorce. To put it simply, contempt is “treating others with disrespect, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless.” (from, April 24, 2013)
Here are some examples:
“What a genius you are. I can’t believe you forgot our suitcase! You’ve got to be the biggest idiot I know. Thanks for ruining our entire vacation.”
“You think you’re overworked? Try going to my job everyday–you couldn’t handle it. Not to mention that I’ve been doing your share of the household chores for the last several days. How pathetic that you can’t even get the dishes washed.”
Contempt usually results from holding back negative thoughts or feelings about your partner until they come flying out as an attack from a perceived position of superiority. An “I’m better than you” mindset tends to take over, and meanness pervades this type of communication. Contempt virtually eliminates any hope that your partner will engage in a vulnerable dialogue with you. Part three will cover how to eliminate this Horseman from your interactions with your partner.
At some point when feeling attacked defensiveness has probably crept into each one of our relationships. It’s natural to want your partner to back off in the middle of a conflict, but defensiveness is almost never successful at getting that result!
Spouse 1: “Why didn’t you call and cancel those cable channels? Now we’re going to have to pay extra.”
Spouse 2: “Today was so busy, I just didn’t have time. I wish you would get off my back about it or just do it yourself.”
When we become defensive in our response, we send the message that we don’t take our partner’s concerns seriously. When our partners do not feel taken seriously, they tend to up the ante rather than back off. This creates a cycle of interaction that can lead to destruction. Not only does defensiveness send the (often unintended) message that our partner’s concern isn’t important, but it also can sound like we’re saying, “the problem isn’t me–it’s you.” This is very unlikely to resolve the issue and lead to healthier communication.
Stonewalling is the last Horseman of the Apocalypse. This happens when the listener withdraws from an interaction, shuts down, or closes off communication in some way. This is different from taking a “time-out.” Sometimes when a discussion becomes too intense, it can be healthy to take a short break of at least 20 minutes in order to calm down. Stonewalling, however, involves more than just a break. It is walking away from a conversation without explanation or simply refusing to respond. It might even involve disingenuously taking all the blame just to stop the conversation. Stonewalling is a form of avoidance that only causes issues to accumulate. It needs to be replaced with a healthier way of managing intense interactions.
If you recognize yourself in any of these communication patterns, don’t worry! In the next installment we’ll discuss how to begin replacing these Horsemen with more productive ways of interacting with your partner. The first step is simply to recognize when you’re doing it. Be on the alert for your involvement in any of these types of interaction, and next time we’ll discuss what to do about it. Look forward to seeing you then!
-By Matt Thames