In marriage we often bump up against each other in ways that are either easy to understand and move through or with problems that are perpetual and without resolution. John Gottman, Ph.D., calls these perpetual problems, and teaches in the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that they will always be there. The key is to understand where the spouse anchors their determination, because it’s usually attached to an unrealized dream. For example,
Tim loves his country and serves in the Navy with pride. His new young wife, Bobbie, however, feels isolated when he deploys and resents the time away because she knows nobody and is timid and shy. He wants to keep serving as a seaman, but Bobbie’s not adjusting well. Last time Tim came home, his 2-year-old daughter was possessive and almost protective of Bobbie from the stranger father that she didn’t even remember.Tim will always feel this way about his service; his father and grandfather before him both served in the Navy and he has loved to carry on this tradition. It makes him feel that he’s transitioned into manhood and can provide for a wife and children and reinforces the identity in the military that he’s had growing up. Bobbie is the youngest of 13 children and is used to being around her large family and them always taking care of and doting on her. Being moved far from her farm in Tennessee to Rhode Island cut her off from familial ties, and this was compounded by her lack of a driver’s license. She is full time mother and has no contact with her husband while he’s gone except through intermittent letters. This separation and isolation from her family and social hub at home is extremely difficult for her to endure.
The pressure builds between her dissatisfaction and loneliness and his 6+months absences.
This couple needs to sit down and discuss their dreams. Their situation has them gridlocked, a term Gottman uses to describe couples who have no forward movement because their dreams or values clash head on. To get some maneuvering room, Tim and Bobbie must have an honest conversation about their feelings, at first without the end goal of resolution. Their conversation is just to get their feelings out and understood, and Gottman suggests fifteen minutes each, alternating turns to talk honestly and vulnerably and then to listen compassionately and actively.
We all have big problems, our own Gethsemanes, to go through, as well as little frustrating difficulties that annoy us relentlessly. It’s up to us to choose to honor our spouses.
From Joseph F Smith, “How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles, and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them.”
If we were the source and inspiration for that quote, we’d feel light and good – and so would everyone around us! However, think on this next one – does this describe you better?
Dr. H. Wallace Goddard quotes in his book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, “People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed the true and the solid wherever they find it. And, what is more, they find it everywhere.”
Regardless where we fall today, we can always choose to do better and be better. Looking back at our couple, Tim and Bobbie, they ended up having him separate and serve in the reserves. This enabled him to keep his retirement, his ID, and his Navy pride and her to keep her husband.
Today I realized that a vast majority of my words toward my children are either task driven or criticism, e.g. “Clara, you need to go back and do the dishes, Sam, you missed the rice on that end of the table, Rachel, come in here and wash, please! Sam, did you hear me? No, buddy, look, the other end of the table.” I realized as I opened my mouth yet again, that I was about to say more.
It starts and stops with me. Time to be good, loving, generous, and as Gottman counsels, full of praise and gratitude. What a happier life to live!