By Lara Noik
What exactly distinguishes a good marriage from a dwindling one?
Dr. John Gottman speaks of 4 important things. His rigorous scientific research with couples found that 4 communication styles - “The 4 Horsemen” - can predict the end of a marriage. Want your marriage to work? Here’s how:
1: Don’t criticize:
There is a huge difference between complaining and criticizing. The first addresses a specific action whilst the latter is more global and attacks the character of the person.
Antidote: Gently explain how you feel and what you need. Say I feel, rather than you are. Instead of “You are so selfish and never think of me,” say, “I feel angry when you don’t let me know that you will be home late”.
2. Don’t have contempt:
Contempt is when one spouse looks down on the other, using sarcasm, eye rolling, name calling etc.
Antidote: Nurture fondness and admiration. Appreciate your spouse and remember why you got together in the first place. Develop a sense of ‘we’, and make your partner your ‘best friend’.
3. Don’t be defensive:
Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. It’s saying, the problem isn’t me, it’s you e.g. “I see you’re upset I didn’t heat up your supper, but you’re always late anyway”.
Antidote: Take responsibility. Eat humble pie. Say: “I’m sorry I didn’t heat up the supper”, without adding the last part of the sentence. Put your pride aside. Conflict over. Eat and enjoy!
4. Deal effectively with stonewalling:
When conflict reaches high levels, one partner may ‘disengage’ and stop communicating altogether as a way of self-protection.
Antidote: Self-soothing. Let your partner know that you're feeling flooded and need to take a break. Then spend time doing something relaxing and distracting, like listening to music, exercising, or whatever works for you. Once stress levels are lowered, a constructive conversation can resume.
It’s clear that a little common sense mixed with humility, a dash of empathy, a swirl of fondness and admiration and a huge helping of love and friendship, is all it takes. What a meal!
Lara Noik is a social worker at Chevrah Kadisha Community Services. She coordinates the Marriage Preparation & Enrichment Programmes as well as the Chev’s Preventative Programmes including their famous “Enrich your Life” series in partnership with CAJE.
To contact call: 011 532 9616