John M. Gottman, Ph.D. wrote a book called The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work, and in it he goes about blasting marriage myths. How many times have you heard that the key to a good marriage is communication? How about sharing common interests keeping couples together? Others include avoiding conflict and going about it in a more contract way – you scratch my back. . . All of these ideas are fundamentally flawed because they’re not sound principles. So what does make a marriage work?
The basis of a fantastic marriage is a sound and enduring friendship. When the marriage starts to experience stress, the friendship needs to be tended to. If long hours at work or difficulty in dealing with the death of a loved one or a new baby starts to become overwhelming to the marriage, Gottman goes first to the friendship and encourages the spouses to nurture it. The healthier the friendship is, the more likely it’ll be able to weather the storm of marriage.
Some things it’s not made to weather, though, are toxic character traits Gottman calls the Four horsemen.
Retrieved at: http://beforeitsnews.com/prophecy/2015/09/are-the-four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse-now-riding-youll-be-surprised-their-colors-have-a-deep-meaning-and-one-youve-likely-not-heard-2472716.html
This is different than complaining in that criticism attacks the person, not just the situation, e.g. “You’re always late for church, you just don’t care about being on time!” is a criticism vs. “I don’t like being late for church, next week I want to leave a little early so we can get a better seat.” Is complaining.
We’re talking sarcasm and disrespect with this pattern of speaking. Contempt is a sense of superiority and can be manifest in eye rolling, name calling, hostile humor, and disgust. It is extremely negative and toxic, e.g. “Dora, when do you think you’re going to go on a diet,” or “I don’t want fat daughters.”
It seems only natural to defend oneself when being attacked by criticism and/or contempt, but the reason this is so harmful is because being defensive is really saying, “it’s not me, it’s your fault,” and serves to escalate the problem.
Aptly named, stonewalling is when the overwhelmed spouse ceases to engage. They respond by withdrawing, not speaking, no eye contact, nothing. It is the silent treatment; it’s avoidance. People usually resort to this later in their marriages after the other three horsemen are well established.
I grew up in a family where the first three were commonly used, in fact, I thought it was a normal way of communicating with people. After my marriage, I was floored when my husband would not engage in a fight with me. I wanted someone to react to my horrible contemptible behavior and fight with them. He told me no. Then I wondered why someone would not want to do that. There’s a huge rush that comes when jousting in anger, and I felt like I wanted that high. He refused, and over the next several years he taught me a better way, a higher way. It wasn’t until much later that I realized just how poisonous to the soul those horsemen can be, even outside of marriage, just as siblings. My husband, Russ, wasn’t interested in harming our marriage in any way, in fact he told me, “I’m only getting married once, Jill.” That sentiment was immensely comforting to me, and for some reason, at that moment I didn’t feel the need to be so prickly. Maybe I was testing him to see if he could love the “real” me.
Little did I know how he would draw that real me out. It was someone far better than I presented at the beginning.
My marriage is phenomenal. It’s because my husband is a saint, and he’s always led the way in the way we treat each other. He honors and nurtures our relationship as a top priority. We have a date night every Friday in his consistent attempt to “woo” me, as he likes to say. This keeps our friendship deep and ever new.
Years ago we were trying to sort something out and he stopped sorting and said, “You’re frustrating me, honey!” I just found it so funny at the time, that I laughed and hugged him and we gave the conflict some fresh air. Ever after it’s been the key to making the other aware that the escalation of emotion needs to be checked, and it always works.
As we both strive to be like the Savior, we don’t have a huge presence of the four horsemen; we try to keep our corral closed to them and open to growth and mutual understanding, but best of all, deeper friendship and respect. There are weeks when we get to bed so late because we stay up talking to each other. There’s just never enough time to satisfy our desire to share completely our thoughts and opinions and counsel with each other – and not in a stuffy way, but an exciting and ever changing way!