Tag Archives: Gottman

Revise Your Criticism for Better Marriage

If your pattern is to criticize your spouse for any reason, it’s time to break that pattern. A couple of days ago I came across a very helpful Washington Times article advising just how to do this. It’s called “Marriage Mindset:  Presume the best.

I have previously shared how to fight fairly and the four relationship patterns that can doom a marriage: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt (including behaviors like eye-rolling). But just knowing it’s a bad pattern isn’t enough. When you have legitimate complaints with your spouse, it’s part of a desire for a healthy marriage to want to address them. How can we do that more productively without damaging the relationship?

 Times author Rebecca Hagelin points out that “good communication never takes aim at the other person.” Instead:

  1. Effective communication sticks to the facts, i.e. “When you didn’t call last tonight to tell me you’d be late…”
  2. Effective communication expresses feelings, i.e. “It made me feel sad and angry.”
  3. Effective communication avoids judgment, i.e. “You’re so inconsiderate.”

Imagine a husband’s reaction when a wife explains she misses the time they used to share on Saturday mornings together rather than complaining, “You never show concern for my needs.” Or, when a husband explains he is feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, he may get a better reaction than if he criticizes his wife for “not doing enough.”

One problem with the pattern of criticism is that it creates such negative interactions and feelings that each partner begins to lose hope that the relationship can work well. “Pessimism begets more pessimism until divorce seems inevitable,” says Hagelin, adding that those with divorced parents or parents who served as poor marriage role models are especially likely to fall into this trap.

As a reminder, Gottman’s other tips for fighting in a more positive manner include:

  • Bringing up the problem in a soft, not harsh manner
  • Presenting issues with more positive and less negative demeanor
  • Accepting influence from your spouse
  • Repairing the interaction when it becomes negative
  • Being willing to compromise
  • Using humor in problem solving (joking around can relieve tension)

More than just changing the way you criticize your partner, the key is to give your spouse and your marriage more marital optimism. “New research shows that the happiest of marriages reflect an overall positive attitude about the goodness of the other person and the marriage itself—even as the couple works to resolve conflicts,” says Hagelin.

So, for example, when your spouse does something less than agreeable, it means giving them the benefit of the doubt that they still have good motives and believing that your relationship is basically sound even if you’re upset about that action. Yes, it also means being forgiving and loving even in these situations.

It’s interesting to me that when I choose to let something go and believe that my spouse didn’t mean to upset me, I often later can’t remember the reason I was so mad. I just remember that I decided to change my attitude about it, and when needed I address it with him when I’m feeling less angry.

Gottman has stressed that focusing on the positive in our relationship is much more important than hashing out our conflicts, because 69 percent of conflicts in marriage are unresolved, as in personality differences or competing needs. Do what you used to love doing together, focus on your partner’s strengths, build your friendship, be kind and loving (even when you don’t feel like it), foster and make time for intimacy—these are all ways to keep positive feelings for each other and for the relationship growing.

How do you feel when you are on the receiving end of criticism? How would you prefer to receive this kind of information? Do you have any room for improving how you criticize your spouse? Do you focus more on what your spouse does well, or what s/he doesn’t do well?

Photo by PhotoXpress.com

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part II: Stay Positive

In the Part I, we learned how important it is to respond positively to our partner’s good news. We also learned that individuals in successful, happy relationships each experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions than do those in unsuccessful relationships. Positive emotions—even fleeting ones—have the power to help us connect with others.

Having an upbeat outlook enables people to see the big picture and avoid getting hung up on small annoyances,” says psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “This wide-angle view often brings to new light new possibilities and offers solutions to difficult problems, making individuals better at handling adversity in relationships and other parts of life. It also tends to dismantle boundaries between “me” and “you,” creating stronger emotional attachments. (Remember the Power of We in Relationships?)

We’ve heard about Dr. Gottman’s 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in a relationship, but Fredrickson studied positive emotions by each individual and found even when the ratio is 3:1 it helps them become more resilient in life and love.

How can we help boost positive emotions? Try to schedule activities often in places that exude positive energy for you, such as a nature hike or meetings in a restaurant you love. Surround yourself with scents and sounds that make you happy. Keep a collage of photos that make you smile on your desk, next to your bed, or wherever you spend time. Keep upbeat music on your ipod or stereo playing positive lyrics. Spend a few minutes hugging your spouse (and children) at the end of the day. Play with your pet.

Scientific American’s December 2009 article, “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage” provides more details.

What do you do to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude, or is this a struggle for you? I know when I’m not feeling well, or the weather has been cold or dreary for a long time, I struggle to be positive. Music helps change my mood.

Read Part I, Part III and Part IV for the other three secrets.

How to Avoid a Common Pitfall of Unhappy Marriages

What are your goals? If you are like most people, you initially think of your personal goals—work, hobbies, spiritual, etc. A few people view themselves first as a part of a family or couple, so they initially think about things they want to do with their spouse/family. While of course married men and women should maintain individuality, there are some particular times in life when it is especially important to view yourself as part of a team, rather than as an individual goal-seeker. Times of transition or crisis are two such examples.

Marriage and family researcher John Gottman, PhD, studied couples transitioning to parenthood; some had a more difficult adjustment and others fared better. He found that when as new parents, husbands and wives were able to move from a “state of me-ness” to a state of “we-ness,” whereby they sacrificed for the team, they were able to make a successful adjustment.

You may also know some marriages (or maybe even yours), that tend to have a fair amount of conflict. These couples may disagree about how to spend time or money, how to parent, etc. They view one another as being on opposite sides of a tennis net, hitting those issues back and forth, over and over. One couple I interviewed from California said they felt like they were on a long path heading in different directions. After a difficult reconciliation, they felt like they were climbing a steep mountain—but they were doing it together. Eventually, they felt they reached the top. Essentially, they figured out how to become part of the same team, although the struggles of the world did not disappear.

Another couple I interviewed recently was absolutely devastated at the death of their infant child. Their marriage became severely fractured when they were unable to see themselves as part of a couple, but rather saw themselves as individually experiencing such deep sorrow and pain in their own unique ways that they were unable to connect with one another. After a series of events, they finally began grieving together and slowly began to heal and grow in their relationship.

It is not always simple to make this change to move to the same side of the net. Often, a counselor, pastor or mentor can help. I detail in my book on how these couples achieved this successful transition after overcoming some extreme obstacles. However, even in everyday life, it can be challenging to view issues and opportunities as a couple. Did you both agree on where you took your last vacation, or how you celebrate the holidays? If your family has one breadwinner, do you discuss job changes, promotions and relocations before making decisions? If you are parents, do you make parenting decisions privately, then present them with unity?

I enjoy watching my young kids play soccer. Frequently, I see two teammates struggling with each other for the ball, when an opponent is not near them. You often hear the coach yell, “Same team!” I think it’s the same for marriage: If we spend all our time struggling with one another, when the real opponents come around (and they will come), we won’t have a fighting chance. Do you feel like you’re on the same team, or do you need a coach to help create unity?