It’s all in the story
The author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman, has been a marriage researcher and counsellor for over 40 years.
Gottman is famous for being able to listen to a couple for five minutes and then knowing, with over 90 per cent certainty, whether their relationship will survive. He does this by asking them to tell their story.
'Either they emphasise their good times and make light of the rough spots, or they accentuate their failures and not their successes. Likewise, they either underscore their partner's positive traits in favour of their more annoying characteristics (cherishing), or they do the opposite (trashing),' as Gottman’s technique is described in ‘The underrated skill that can benefit every area of your life’.
Couples who cherish each other are better able to deal with each other’s more trash-able aspects.
They have found ways to cope and not waste time and energy on something that will never be resolved. And such an approach results in better health, happiness, and sex.
The Four Horsemen
Gottman has also identified 'Four Horsemen' – ways of fighting – that spell relationship apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, according to ‘What are the four things that kill relationships?’
I will explain these approaches by speaking directly to you, dear reader.
Dear reader, the reason you will click away from this column is not because you are tired or distracted by more pressing matters. No. The reason you will click away is because of a fundamental flaw in your personality. You are simply a bad person. (Criticism)
In fact, you are a loser. A mindless shit with your head firmly wedged up your own ass. And that’s not the only reason why you disgust me. (Contempt)
But hey, your problems are your problems. There’s nothing to be done about them without you recognizing them. You’re just blind to the truth. (Defensiveness)
Anyway, dear reader, it’s time to ignore you and walk away. As an emotional vampire sucking all the good bits out of my soul, you are simply not worth my attention. (Stonewalling)
You nag, I withdraw
Okay, I’m back!
Not just because I could have chosen to illustrate the Four Horsemen in a more diplomatic way. For example, I could have used one of Gottman’s suggested techniques: using the word 'I' instead of 'YOU' so I would come across as less aggressive.
But also because, stonewalling – retreating to avoid conflict – turns out to be the most destructive of the Four Horsemen, according to ‘Why the way you fight can threaten your relationship’.
'The silent treatment is akin to the ‘demand-withdraw’ pattern many researchers have identified, in which one partner nags or confronts, and the other pulls away. A review of 74 studies that included more than 14,000 participants suggests that the demand-withdraw pattern is one of the most damaging types of conflict – and a major predictor of divorce.'
So it seems that fighting is not only destructive, but it can also be a sign that a couple still cares.
Don’t get ‘hangry’, get a Cadbury
Perhaps Gottman is just making things overly-complicated. Especially if we are to believe ‘Lashing out at your spouse? Check your blood sugar’.
According to a recent study, people with low blood sugar are more likely to stick more pins into a voodoo doll representing their partner – even when they are essentially satisfied in their relationship.
Hence the slang: 'hangry' (hungry + angry).
So perhaps the best way to maintain relationship harmony is to just share a Cadbury, hit the bedroom and make sweet, sweet love.