We have been led to believe that compatibility with each other is the sole factor that will decide why marriages succeed or fail.
However, this is a misconception.
Seeing the number of people who go through a divorce has to make you think ‘Is there more to marriage than just compatibility?’ Are there more factors that lead to why marriages succeed or fail?
Countless research has been conducted on the marriage and how to make marriages work which has discovered that there is a whole load of factors to making marriages work. Because relationships are just as complicated as individuals themselves. Much of this research was led by, Dr John Gottman.
Dr John Gottman is considered to be the authority to marriage therapy that he can predict a couple’s marriage whether it will succeed or fail. In one of the format for his experiments, he would ask couples to fight.
A doctor is asking couples to fight. How odd, right? Peculiar as it may seem, observing couples during a fight revealed very important indications that helped solidify the research on marriage.
Marriage isn’t all about sunny weather, it’s also weathering through your lives, through storms great or small.
Conflicts are unavoidable no matter how sunny a relationship is
The findings of Gottman’s longitudinal research revealed the following answers to why marriages succeed or fail:
Working on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
According to the Bible, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are the harbingers or omens of the end of times.
This served as the inspiration to Dr John Gottman’s predictors of divorce, namely:
Criticism is a helpful way to correct undesirable behaviors or manners. When done correctly, the two parties will achieve an understanding that will be beneficial to both. Therefore, learning the art of criticism is a crucial skill that both spouses should learn.
There is a way for one to pass on criticism without having to scold or to make your spouse feel belittled.
Dr John Gottman suggests that instead of pointing fingers to your spouse through the word “you are…”, begin by saying “I.” Let’s take a look at these two examples:
“You never help around with the house nor with the kids. You’re so lazy!”
“I feel overwhelmed by the number of house chores and tending to kids. Can you please help me?”
Looking closer in the sample sentences above can see just how different these two are. The first sentence is what exactly how blaming and convicting sounds: “You never.. you’re so lazy!”. But, if we take a look at sentence two, we see that the speaker is sharing what is happening to them without imposing a blame towards their partner.
When we think about marital relationships, we often think about a relationship where two people love each other so much. It’s not that difficult to not think about marital relationships this way, after all, you chose to be with this person for the rest of your lives.
We’d never think that contempt is something that will be present in a loving relationship, right? But apparently, we’re wrong. As bad as it sounds, contempt sometimes seeps in even through a solid relationship.
With contempt, a partner says or does things that are intended to hurt the other partner.
One partner may exhibit or speak condescendingly to their partner to intentionally make the partner feel unworthy.
No matter what motivation a person has to practice contempt, it should be stopped in its tracks before the dissolution of a marriage. Contempt is the biggest predictor of why marriages succeed or fail. This is displayed in either of the following:
- Insulting language: liar, ugly, loser, fat, etc
- Sarcastic remarks: “Oh yeah? Well, I’m very scared now… Very!”
- Facial expressions: eye-rolling, sneering, etc
If your relationship is infested with contempt, it is best to resort to more respect, more appreciation, and more acceptance for your partner instead of focusing on the negative qualities of your partner.
Psychology tells us that there are many tactics that we use to protect ourselves. There’s a whole range of defensive mechanisms falling from denial to even acting out.
In relationships, we make use of these defense mechanisms to remove ourselves from the responsibilities of the issues unfolding.
Sadly, with defensiveness, the point of the argumentation is voided which makes the other partner hurt, unhurt, and unloved.
Defensiveness in relationships can be seen when one partner completely denies the responsibility. This makes them blind to the outcome that has brought to their partner.
Let’s take a look at the case below as an example:
Ellie: “You said we’re going to dinner with the Carter’s on Sunday. Did you forget?”
John: “I never agreed to that. Why do you always confirm us attending when you did not even ask me. Are you sure I said yes to that?”
In our example, Ellie is trying to confirm with her husband that they’ll be attending the dinner. However, John resorted to defensiveness when confronted, putting the blame on Ellie (Why do you always confirm us attending when you did not even ask me?), and even resorting to a little gaslighting.
Defensiveness is also seen when one partner starts raising their own complaints while their partner’s complaints have not been solved yet. A behavior which we can call as cross-complaining. In our example above, John raised his complaints while Ellie was trying to raise her own.
Before speaking in an argument, partners are encouraged to take a step back and breathe. Try to calm down and bring yourself to a state of awareness where you can see that your partner is not attacking you. Instead of defensiveness, understand, and empathize.
If you did something wrong, take responsibility. Own the mistake and apologize for it.
Apologizing for the mistake does not remove the responsibility of the mistake, but, it allows your partner to see that you can see your mistakes and that you are willing to move forward together with forgiveness.
Another predictor or reason for why marriages succeed or fail is the more solid defense mechanism aptly called as stonewalling.
With stonewalling, the partner completely withdraws and totally disengages physically to show disapproval.
Stonewalling is a defense mechanism often used by men. 85% of men in Dr John Gottman’s study, to be precise. It was found out that men often resort to this more because husbands prefer not to hurt their wives.
Stonewalling is very easy to do in the heat of an argument, most especially. However, as a loving spouse, instead of stonewalling your spouse completely, courteously ask your spouse for space and reassure your spouse that you will be coming back.
That does sound better than hearing slammed doors, doesn’t it?
The magic ratio to love is 5:1
Did you know that there is a magic ratio to love? The magic ratio is 5:1.
Love, then, is not 1:1; to have a more balanced relationship, make sure it’s 5:1, putting in five loving actions for every one negative encounter.
Of course, that’s just a placeholder, per se. If you can build more and more loving moments together and keeping the negative encounters at a fraction, your marriage will surely last for a long time.
Making an effort to focus on the positive rather than negative
“I love my husband, but, sometimes I don’t like him.”
The statement is just begging us to ask how she can say something like that? How can you love someone and not like him at the same time?
Well, an answer could be that the wife in the example is focusing more on the negative rather than the positive.
In relationships, conflicts and arguments are normal, and sometimes these events in our relationship make it difficult for us to ‘like’ our spouse.
Love is important. Love is what makes relationships endure. Love is what enables us to accept our spouse. Liking, on the other hand, can be difficult especially when spouses have gone through so many difficult fights.
Liking is still an important aspect of a relationship even after years of marriage. Liking someone lets, you see the positive characteristics of your spouse.
So don’t stop at just the I love you. Focusing on your spouse’s positive attributes will help you remember how you fell in love with them in the first place.
Increase the loving interactions with your spouse
If you’re familiar with David Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, then, hearing the quote “Love is in the actions” won’t be indifferent to you. But if not, showing love for your spouse is among the building blocks of a fruitful marriage.
Washing the dishes after dinner. Taking out the trash. Waking up to put the baby back to sleep. These may all seem like ‘chores,’ but it’s more than just chores. These are actions that show you love your spouse. Helping them around the house can mean so much more and will merit gratitude.
Expressing gratitude is another loving action that spouses can do for each other.
In research, gratitude was found out to be just as important as loving and liking. Through gratitude, we can recognize the goodness of our spouse; and this kind of recognition goes a long way. Gratitude is an ingredient that helps make your marriage’s bond stronger, and more delightful.
Thank your spouse and see just how different your relationship will be.
The secrets to making your marriage last don’t only rely on one factor or on one partner.
A relationship, by the word itself, is the coming together of two individuals bound by love and acceptance.
In marriage, then, it is important to work together through the differences, and as this post suggests, learning to fight fairly without resorting to using any of the Four Horsemen–fighting without criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
It’s also about making an effort to focus on the positive attributes of your relationship and of your spouse; learning to build from the best of times to shield your marriage when the worst of times come.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.