The New Rules of Marriage

by Leslie Jones

According to relationship expert, John Gottman and newspaper columnist, Christopher Dollard, marriage is one of the oldest social, economic, religious, and legal institutions in the world, and there is no shortage of professionals trying to figure out what makes marriage stick. It turns out that much of the conventional marriage wisdom of the past is not based on sound research, but more on advice. John and Julie Gottman, who researched thousand of couples for over 40 years, discovered the truth about many myths that have transcended generations of advice giving for couples about to be hitched.

Myth # 1 – Never Go to Bed Angry

How many of us were told by marriage gurus to never go to bed angry? Probably, the most clichéd relationship recommendations given by Reddit, Dear Abby, or even the Hallmark Channel Movie Of The Week. This advice strongly encourages couples to solve their problems right away. Out of exhaustion, many go into unbridled self-expression, which feels like an attack and prolongs the argument even further. John and Julie Gottman studied physiological reactions of couples when they argue.
They discovered that these couples are physiologically stressed displaying an increase in heart rate, an increase in cortisol and adrenaline in the bloodstream, and an increase in perspiration. With the help of UCLA Professor of Psychiatry David Siegel’s, brain studies, he determined that the brain during conflict believes that a person is at risk or threat and therefore goes into reactivity or survival mode; fight, flight, freeze, fix it and/or submit. Once a person is triggered or activated, it is nearly impossible for a couple to have a rational discussion where both feel seen and heard. Gottmans in their “Love Lab, discovered if they asked couples to stop arguing and read pop-culture magazines for 30 minutes before resuming their conversation, the couples’ bodies physiologically calmed down, which allowed them to communicate rationally.
The moral of this story is if you find yourself in a pretty heated conversation before bed time, take a break, and come back to the topic later, even if it’s in the morning.

Myth # 2 – Couples therapy is for fixing a broken marriage

Of course couples therapy is an important intervention when marriages are in dire straights. The thought of seeking marriage counseling early in the relationship or even before marriage is often thought of a sign that may predict problems in the relationship for years to come. As noted by one skeptic in New York magazine, “If you need couples therapy before you’re married – when it’s supposed to be fun and easy, before the pressures of children, family, and combined financials – then it’s the wrong relationship.”
The relationship expert Sue Johnson in her number one best seller, Hold Me Tight, refutes this idea and supports the notion of learning how to break negative interaction patterns that can occur early in the relationship. With this single intervention, she believes couples can find a safe haven in the couplehood which will allow for more joy and intimacy. It is estimated that the average couple waits six years after serious issues arise before getting help with their marital problems. Unfortunately, this could be too late as half of all divorces occur within the first seven years of marriage.
When seeking counseling, couples can learn positive communication and conflict management skills, ways to self-sooth when they have been triggered, and learn a repair process when they disagree.

Myth # 3 – Affairs are the main cause of divorce

An affair is certainly devastating and hurtful to a marriage and can erode the trust in a relationship. John and Julie Gottman, as relationship experts, certainly do not condone or excuse the behavior of betrayal. However, when consulting with the Divorce Mediation Project, they discovered that 80 percent of divorced men and women cited the behavior of growing apart and loss of a sense of closeness to their partner as the reason for divorce. Only 20 to 27% blamed their separation on an extramarital affair.
The Gottmans astonishingly discovered that partners who have affairs usually have them not because they’re lonely, but more because there were already serious problems in the marriage before the affair occurred. The take away is by investing in relationship counseling to learn how to attune to one another, the single most important trait that the Gottman’s discovered for marital satisfaction, couples can learn vital ways to impact their marriage.

Myth # 4 – Common Interests Keep You Together

Conventional wisdom often supports that having shared hobbies and activities within couples will prolong the happiness in the relationship. Even relationship dating sites, and OKcupid, matches participants solely based on their interests. Furthermore, a Pew survey suggested that 64 percent of respondents said, “having shared interests” is “very important” to their marriages, surpassing satisfying sexual relationships and agree on politics.
Although sharing common interests in a relationship is very important, the Gottmans discovered that the most important thing is not what you do together, but how you interact while doing it.   For example, enjoying deep sea scuba diving is great, however, if folks are yelling to each other to quit hogging all the air or space in the cage, the satisfaction of the experience is strongly diminished. The Gottmans discovered that getting into heavy criticism or resentment can be strongly detrimental to the relationship and can cause further erosion down the road. So, learning how to communicate to one another and even to stronger predictor of compatibility than shared interests is the ratio of positive to negative interactions, which should be 20-to-1 in everyday situations, whether a couple is doing something they both enjoy or not.
In Summary, conventional marriage advice is well intended, but in today’s world, we need solid, well researched relationship guidance. Learning relationship skills early in marriage can make a difference for years to come.
If you are interested in more information, please contact Leslie Jones here