Couples who don’t make it more than a few years after their wedding day are those who are stuck in a negative cycle, says John Gottman, University of Washington psychologist and founder of the Gottman institute.
What does it mean to get stuck in a negative cycle? The negative interactions and responses become so common as to be rather automatic, and the partner responds in kind to that negativity with more negativity. The friendship and affection that began in the relationship fades further and further into the background.
“This negativity becomes all-encompassing. They check in but they don’t check out. It’s like the roach hotel model. There’s a rapid deterioration of intimacy and friendship where they become one another’s adversary instead of one another’s friends,” he explains.
It may seem rather obvious that these couples are doomed to fail. However, it is our natural reaction to lash out with negativity when we feel attacked. Either partner can stop this cycle by refusing to participate and by learning to build the friendship and affection back in. Of course, real problems may need to be addressed, but often we over-react to small perceived failings or slights. For instance, if your spouse forgets to run an errand for you, don’t say that is a sign of lack of caring when it may be just forgetfulness or busyness. Responding with kindness or forgiveness can keep the cycle from spinning out of control. We need to have many more positive interactions than negative ones to maintain a healthy relationship.
The couples who are predicted to experience a divorce much later are those who “agree to disagree” says Gottman. Around 16 years after the wedding, at the time many parents have teens, these couples end the marriage because they refused to address their problems. In their decision to withdraw from all conflict, they didn’t resolve any real issues. As the years fly by, then may feel they are in an empty marriage. The marriage can last a long time but are called “hostile detached couples” and are often demonstrated by couples who rarely talk at meal times.
So in deciding not to participate in the negative cycles of the first type of couple, we need to not pretend to have a relationship, but rather work to actually maintain a healthy, loving relationship. Sharing time together, building and maintaining good communication and affection, and working through real problems are all part of what successful couples do.
Have you seen other couples in these cycles? Is it harder to see yourself or others falling into these patterns?
Source: Business Insider
Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.