So you’ve found the love of your life and nothing is gonna tear you apart. Not like your brother James and his ex Ashley; and definitely not like your cousin Trisha whose divorce was a long, loud, painful process. Good for you! But just one question — are you sure?
Everybody knows there are certain behaviours almost guaranteed to break up a relationship. Infidelity is one; domestic violence is another. You may be sure you would ever do these — but what about the everyday bad behaviours that destroy a happy relationship?
John Gottman is one of the world’s leading researchers on why marriages survive or fail. He has studied hundreds of couples having arguments and is able to predict with up to 94 percent accuracy if a marriage will fail. His research shows that certain behaviours are more corrosive to happiness than others. Take a deep breath — these are:
Let’s have a look at exactly what these mean.
All couples argue and have complaints from time to time. A complaint is a statement about wanting something to change; a criticism is a negative statement, with the underlying message that someone should change.
Here is an example of a complaint: “I am upset because you promised to pick up the groceries and now we have nothing for dinner. I need to be able to rely on you.”
This same issue could be phrased as a criticism: “You said you’d get the groceries, but you just couldn’t be bothered. I can’t trust you do anything. You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”
Bad news ladies! Studies show that women are consistently more critical than men.
If you can never admit you have flaws or were in that wrong, that’s defensiveness. It’s also very frustrating!
Taking our argument about the groceries above, here is an example of defensiveness: “It’s not my fault. You can’t expect me to do everything. You know how hard I work. You could have easily picked up the groceries yourself.”
A smarter strategy is to try a response such as this: “I’m sorry. I was distracted at work and it slipped my mind. I know my memory isn’t the best, but I will try to do better in future. Maybe you could help by reminding me next time?”
Contempt tells your partner that you have no respect for him or her. Sarcasm, disrespect and extreme criticism are all forms of contempt.
Let us return to our couple arguing about the groceries: “I think saying I don’t care about anyone else is unfair. That upsets me.” Here our forgetful partner does not resort to contempt in the face of criticism.
Contempt would look something like this: “I don’t care? Give me a break! You’re so selfish, you wouldn’t know what caring looked like. When was the last time you did anything for anyone? Let me think. Hmmm, uh, that’s right – never!”
Stonewalling, or “giving the silent treatment”, is a refusal to talk to your partner or look for a resolution. Stonewalling is silent contempt – the message is that just can’t be bothered.
If an argument is getting heated, it’s fine to take a time out, but let your partner know. Say something like: “This is getting too intense. I need a break. I’d like to go for a walk and calm down. I’ll be back in an hour and we can finish this then.” Stonewalling would be more like this: “Yeah, whatever. I’m going out.”
And now, bad news for the men! Men are more likely to use stonewalling than women. Sometimes it is because they feel unable to respond, but stonewalling adds extra fire to an argument and makes the person on the receiving end frustrated and angry.
So there you have it — four marriage busters. If you have been guilty of any of these you’ll need to make a real effort to change in future. It’ll be worth it. You’ll have a happier spouse and a stronger marriage.