On my current summer break from teaching courses, I have had time to take on a new project. I am currently working with a group of talented therapists to provide a marriage enrichment course to couples at our church. For the 6 -week module, we decided to utilize the Gottman(2015) book that provides practical advice for the married couple. Not only is it practical, but the material is supported by 30 years of research.
John Gottman and his team of researchers observed married couples in a “love lab” and studied the details of their interactions. They observed couples’ patterns of communications, expressions, body language and tone of voice, while also monitoring their stress hormones by hooking them up to stress monitors and measuring their urine. Based on these interactions, Gottman reports that he is able to predict divorce with over 91% accuracy (p.2).
So what are some of the warning signs that your relationship will not succeed on the road to to happily ever after?
The first place to look is at your conversations. If conversations contain what Gottman (2015) calls “the 4 Horseman of the Apocolypse” (p.32), your relationship could be headed for a rocky road. The communication patterns Gottman identified as unhealthy include:
Criticism – an expression that contains negative feelings about your partner’s character or personality.
Contempt – a form of disrespect that communicates a superiority over your partner.
Defensiveness – a way of “playing the victim” that actually turns the blame back on your partner.
Stonewalling – disengaging from your partner completely, avoiding conflict but also avoiding resolution.
While all of us have utilized the above techniques when conflict arises, it is the persistent use of these techniques over time that will lead to relationship strain.
So what is the solution? Now that Gottman (2015) has identified these patterns, can’t we just change them and salvage our relationship? Well, yes and no. Yes, we can change the way we communicate, and no, that’s not all you need to thrive and have a healthy relationship.
First of all, we can learn to approach our disagreements with a “complaint.” A complaint includes information about the current situation, without throwing our partner under the bus. A complaint includes 3 parts:
1. Here’s how I feel
2. It’s about a very specific situation
3. And here’s what I want/prefer.
The second part of the solution is what Gottman calls “nurturing your fondness and admiration” (p. 71). After years of studying and treating couples, Gottman learned that in order to counteract the negativity, there has to be positivity. A few strategies for this?
1.Identifying ways that you appreciate your partner
2.Naming qualities about your partner that you admire.
3.Recalling your “love story”, like how you met and what drew you to the other person.
Relationships can be hard, but they can also be very rewarding. If you and your partner are willing to put in the time to nurture your union, you can count on having someone on your side for the long haul. If you would like to learn more about relationships, please contact me at email@example.com.
Gottman, J. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert. New York, NY: Harmony Books.