In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the research of marriage counselors and psychologists John and Julie Gottman on married couples, which revealed Four Predictors of Divorce. The Gottmans refer to these predictors as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which include criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. This month we will look at a couple of strategies the Gottmans suggest using to avoid these predictors.
MASTERS OR DISASTERS?
The Gottmans did 40 years of research with couples at various stages of the life cycle. They called the couples who stayed together and were happy the "Masters" of relationships and those who either divorced or who stayed together but were unhappy the "Disasters" of relationships.
The Disasters engaged in all the derisive behaviors the Gottmans referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or Four Predictors of Divorce. The Masters were gentle toward each other. They had a pattern that was much more pleasant. Even when they brought up a topic that was conflict-laden, they did it in such a relaxed way, “as though they were kicking around a soccer ball together”! They took responsibility for even the smallest part of the problem and didn't engage in the patterns the Disasters used so frequently.
Here are a couple of strategies you can use to become a Master of your couple relationship:
Strategy 1 - SOFT START-UP
When initiating a conversation with your spouse, especially if you think the flow of communications may get tense fast, the first couple of sentences set the tone for the remainder of the conversation. If you start with a criticism or complaint or with a whiny, contemptuous, or impatient tone, the Gottmans say you are insuring the failure of your relational or conversational goal. A soft start-up may be something like:
"I'm sorry for my reaction last time when we discussed the problem. I know I was...demanding...disrespectful...intrusive...short tempered...” fill in the blank.
"I know we struggled last time we attempted this conversation, I'm hoping we could revisit it. When would be a good time for you?"
In the examples above, the soft start-up is reparative. It can also be used to bring up a topic you want to dialogue about. "We need to make a decision about what school Mary will be going to…or where to go on vacation, etc. When is a good time for you?" A dangerous and damaging start-up is: "We always leave everything to the last minute, this should have been decided weeks ago. Come on let's just finalize these plans.” Or “Why do you have to put everything off?" says the critical wife to the stonewalling husband or the contemptuous husband to the passive wife.
Strategy 2 - TURNING TOWARDS
One habit the Masters practiced was something called "turning towards." It basically means that when their spouse bid for their attention, no matter what they were doing at the moment, whether using their iPad, watching TV, or reading a book, they would turn towards their spouse. They would pay attention to what their spouse was saying, paying attention to, or perhaps delighting in. The response could be as small as a smile and nod, a short comment, or could go as far as laying aside what they were doing, coming alongside their spouse, and permitting the other's desire to connect them. The Gottmans call this response kindness and further describe it as a muscle that any human being can develop.
A kind response requires practice and commitment to your spouse that ultimately cultivates and reflects a generous spirit. <<Click to Tweet
Sounds like a familiar Scripture to me…
The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22, 23.
Amazing! The Gottmans’ secular research observed that the fruit of the spirit is something that can be acquired and actually distinguishes the successful marriages from the unsuccessful ones!
Next month we'll look at some additional practical strategies to boost your communications skills toolbox. Meanwhile you can see the Drs. Gottman online just by Googling any of the topics mentioned in this article.
Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website.
EDITORS NOTE: While Susanne can’t answer specific counseling-related questions, she welcomes your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about what kinds of topics you’d like to see addressed here at Circles of Faith.Click here to contact us.