Healthy marriages make healthy children
I believe that most couples get married wanting and believing that their relationship will be filled with shalom, peace. But couples inevitably have conflicts that cause strife in their relationship. The days of fun dates and the honeymoon can turn into the daily grind of cleaning, cooking and changing diapers.
Dr. John Gottman, world renowned for his research on couples, watched thousands of couples in his Love Lab and said he could predict whether a couple would get divorced — with more than 90 percent accuracy — after just five minutes. He found that successful couples “keep their negative thoughts and feelings about each other from overwhelming their positive ones” (“The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”).
Dr. Gottman believes that couples who understand, honor and respect each other are more emotionally intelligent, leading to a more successful marriage. He uses the term “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” to explain the different types of negative interactions in a marriage.
1. Criticism: Spouses may have complaints about their partner’s behavior, but criticism is more harmful. Criticism is a negative statement about the spouse’s personality and character.
An example of a complaint — Sara: “Avi, I thought we discussed sharing household chores, but I feel like I do most of the cleaning.”
An example of a criticism — Sara: “Avi, you never help me. I have to do everything around the house. You never think about me.”
2. Contempt: This “horseman” is most indicative of divorce because it communicates disgust for one’s partner. Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt, as well as eye rolling, sneering, mockery and hostile humor. Contempt usually occurs because negative thoughts about one’s partner remain unresolved.
An example of contempt — Sara: “Avi, can you help me vacuum the house?” Avi: “Is it going to matter? The house is never clean.” Sara: “You’re the biggest mess here.”
3. Defensiveness: When one spouse is harsh and critical, the other spouse usually becomes defensive, which only escalates the conflict. The spouse who is verbally attacking the other spouse doesn’t apologize for his/her behavior. The conflict continues with the blame game.
An example of defensiveness — Sara: “You never help with the dishes.” Avi: “Yes I do. You never notice how I help you.”
4. Stonewalling: This is when one spouse disengages, avoids or escapes the conflict. Usually this “horseman” doesn’t display itself early on in marriage, but occurs when one partner becomes overwhelmed with negative emotions.
An example of stonewalling — Sara and Avi have been fighting for 30 minutes when the husband starts to tune out his wife by avoiding eye contact, staring out the window and acting like he doesn’t care.
Sara: “You never help me clean up. I can’t do it all by myself. I’m not your maid.” Avi: Nothing. Sara: “Well, what are you going to do to help me?” Avi: What’s for dinner?
Most, if not all, healthy marriages have conflicts and disagreements, but how couples handle the disagreement impacts their connectedness, bond and trust. Couples can learn how to avoid the “Four Horsemen” by choosing more effective methods of communication.
Lisa (Elisheva) Rabinowitz is a local Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. She can be reached at 410-736-8118. Her suggestions are for couples in healthy relationships and exclude those in abusive relationships.