Making points and breaking points explained…
Recognized as one of the 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century (Psychotherapy Networker, 2007) Dr John Gottman has some very good insights into the key to a happy and long-lasting marriage.
His research showed “that it wasn’t only how couples fought that mattered, but how they made up.”
Gottman claims to have an 94% accuracy rate of divorce prediction. He identifies the warning signs, which he refers to as the Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse, as follows:
Criticism: stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality, i.e., giving the partner negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
Contempt: statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. Example: “You’re an idiot.”
Defensiveness: self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood. Defensiveness wards off a perceived attack. Example: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”
Stonewalling: emotional withdrawal from interaction. Example: The listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker.
These predict early divorcing – an average of 5.6 years after the wedding. Emotional withdrawal and anger predict later divorcing – an average of 16.2 years after the wedding. (source: gottman.com)
That’s the bad news, but what about the good news?
Well the good news is that:
- Happily married couples behave like good friends, and they handle their conflicts in gentle, positive ways.
- Happily married couples are able to repair negative interactions during an argument, and they are able to process negative emotions fully.
This is backed up by the findings of a recent study, conducted at UC Berkeley which showed that when it comes to keeping the peace, it’s more important for wives than for husbands to calm down after a heated argument.
While both spouses were equally able to cool down during conflicts, the husbands’ emotional regulation had little or no bearing on long-term marital satisfaction, according to the study’s findings published online Nov. 4 in the journal Emotion.
“When it comes to managing negative emotion during conflict, wives really matter,” said psychologist Lian Bloch, lead author of the study.
Bloch and fellow researchers at Berkeley and Northwestern University analyzed videotaped interactions of more than 80 middle-aged and older heterosexual couples, focusing on how they recovered from disagreements. Time and again they found that marriages in which wives quickly calmed down during disputes were ultimately shown to be the happiest, both in the short and long run.
“Emotions such as anger and contempt can seem very threatening for couples. But our study suggests that if spouses, especially wives, are able to calm themselves, their marriages can continue to thrive,” Bloch said.
Women take the lead when it comes to deflecting conflict in a marriage
While it is commonly held that women play the role of caretaker and peacemaker in relationships, the study is among the first to reveal this dynamic in action over a long period of time, researchers point out. Results show that the link between the wives’ ability to control emotions and higher marital satisfaction was most evident when women used “constructive communication” to temper disagreements.
“When wives discuss problems and suggest solutions, it helps couples deal with conflicts,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson, senior author of the study. “Ironically, this may not work so well for husbands, who wives often criticize for leaping into problem-solving mode too quickly.”
The study is one of several led by Levenson, who looks at the inner workings of long-term marriages. Participants are part of a cohort of 156 heterosexual couples in the San Francisco Bay Area whose relationships Levenson and fellow researchers have tracked since 1989.
Every five years, the couples come to Levenson’s lab at Berkeley to report on their marital satisfaction and to discuss areas of conflict in their relationships. Researchers code their conversations based on facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and topic of discussion.
In this latest look at the emotional forces at play in long-term marriages, researchers pinpointed the most negative peaks in the couple’s conversations and timed how long it took spouses to recover based on their body language, facial expressions, and emotional and physiological responses.
Claudia Haase, a coauthor of the study and an assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern, noted that age may also play a role in how couples interact when conflicts arise.
“The middle-aged and older couples in our study grew up in a world that treated men and women very differently,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how these gender dynamics play out in younger couples.”
Source: University College Berkeley