Making it Work

A friend of mine is getting married Saturday, and this upcoming event has me pondering exactly what it is that makes marriage work. While there may be several factors involved, I particularly like some suggested by psychologist John Gottman (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work).

 Gottman says that what makes marriage work is surprisingly simple. Happily married couples have conflict just like unhappily married ones, but they handle it differently. For one thing, they keep their negative thoughts and feelings about each other from overwhelming their positive ones. Plus, they keep quiet about some of these things. Criticizing merely serves to hurt the other party so why do it?

 Happily married couples don’t allow major differences of opinion to destroy their marriage.  Gottman found that 69 percent of conflicts involve perpetual or unresolvable problems. Jewish or Christian? Catholic or Mormon? Miser or spendthrift? While people might try hard to change each other, it doesn’t work. Successful couples know that significant disagreements are about values and different ways of seeing the world and that these things don’t change. Eventually, they accept each other and the differences rather than continuing to try to control or change things.

 As a quick example, my husband loves to hunt and is in the woods/swamp much of the time from September through December. Not having grown up in a hunting family, this was totally foreign to me. It still is. I just don’t see how anyone could actually enjoy getting all excited about killing an innocent animal, especially when I think about the elaborate ruses (corn, special cameras) used to attract or keep an eye on Bambi and friends. My sweet husband has patiently explained to me more times than I can recall about the need to keep the deer population in check. He usually ends the “lesson” with a reminder that I eat hamburgers and that hamburgers come from a cow. Does this make a difference in how I feel about taking the life of a deer? Not one iota. But have I learned to “go with the flow?” Yes. He’s not going to change and nor am I, and getting perturbed about this basic difference in values and behavior is not going to change either of us.

 Here’s another big surprise. According to Gottman, happy marriages are not unusually open and honest. In fact, they shove a lot of issues under the rug. This flies in the face of many types of counseling techniques that advise open communication. Gottman feels that too much honesty can have a detrimental effect since no one like to be told about his or her shortcomings even if it’s for their “own good.” Maybe the best thing to do is to feel the anger or annoyance and then split up for a while. In our case, he goes hunting or golfing, and I go walking or shopping.

 And finally, Gottman says that keeping romance alive is important. However, it’s not necessarily the moonlight and roses that count but rather the day-to-day forms of attention that the partners give each other. When my friend Lisa calls her husband on the phone, he answers by saying, “Hello, my love.”  It’s a little thing, and yet in relationships the little things are the big ones.

 There’s a lot more to it than this. There’s friendship, mutual respect, and admiration…and love, sweet love. Does anyone else have any advice for Carol and Randy?


Author: jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer

7 thoughts on “Making it Work”

  1. I’m with you on the hunting thing—I don’t understand it, but I’m glad he has something that makes him happy. He doesn’t understand my need for books, but he understands that books make me happy.

    My sentiments exactly! In fact, some men have very few interests besides television, and I'm thrilled that my husband has several...and that he had friends to do those things with.

  2. I loved this entry! Of course, I agree with everything.

    My husband and I are the happiest couple we associate with and what works in our marriage is the principle of love and respect from the Bible. In general, men primarily need respect and Women primarily need love.
    A lot of times women try to show their love to their husband and husbands try to be “respectful” to their wives. Both of these are important, but neither partner will be satisfied.
    Therefore, women need to learn to boost their man’s confidence and men need to learn how to make their wife feel like his beautiful queen.
    The great part about this principle is that as long as both partners are generally good-willed, one partner’s efforts can spark the change in the relationship.

    If a man keeps his woman feeling loved, the romance will stay alive automatically.

    I like the part about “sweeping things under the rug” I call it “not nitpicking every issue”. 🙂 This also helps a man to feel respected.

    I also agree that about the” honesty” thing. Men are usually too smart to be honest with their wives but most women tend to rip their husbands apart to the detriment of their own marriages.

    I love your point about accepting eachother’s differences. My husband and I try to take it a step farther and celebrate and appriciate eachother’s differences. There’s always something good to say about your mate’s quirk that could drive you insane if you let it.

    I have found in our relationship that all the little details, the friendship, admiration.. etc.. came naturally when we learned to “love and respect”.

    Tricia, I loved this response. No wonder the two of you are so happy. You're very wise to be so young! A couple of things you mentioned really "spoke to me." I've seen lots of women (men too actually) rip their partner apart...and for what purpose? So they could be right? So they could look good? That seems crazy to me!

    Your nitpicking comment hit home too. It drives me insane for my husband to neatly fold his jeans and put them on the stool where he sits to put on his socks and shoes, and no matter how many times I say something about it, things don't change. Oh sure, for a while, he'll hang them in the closet, but in a few days he reverts to the old ways. So what have I done? After ten years, I've let it go. If he wants his side of the room to look messy and cluttered, that's okay with me.

  3. is this the couple you meet at the beach sometimes? I ordered a book on my Kindle by accident but it is a very good book about relationships…Five Languages of Love. Carl thrives on compliments and appreciation so I have been working on replacing ” nagging” with affirmations etc. Very good reminder Jayne.

    I love the five languages concept...just hard to remember it when in the heat of the moment or when you're perturbed about something. I'm all about positive affirmations, and Otis likes acts of service, and now that I realize that, I try to put it into practice.

  4. Of course, things that are important need to be discussed. But the things that bug you, little things, like different habits in dish-doing and not phoning before staying out later than planned a time or two–those don’t merit much worry or discussion. I think the key for me has been to limit my worry. Realize what is an issue and what isn’t, and not freak out about every difference/difficulty that comes up.

    Thanks, I needed to read this.

    You're so right, nosurf. There are some things that you positively cannot sweep under the rug. Some things are serious issues and others are not. Interestingly, I went to a wedding earlier this evening, and as a video person came around asking for advice for the newlyweds, I was amazed at the diversity of comments.

    By the way, I'm going to get back to your blog tomorrow and comment on the book lists. I tried to do it earlier today, but somehow I can't leave anything from this blog so I'll have to try with the evessisters.blogspot one.

  5. do you feel like a missionary , marla jayne??????????????you act like one, and i will be your convert>>>oh wait a minute, we are on the same team:::::right????

    Hey, I take that as a compliment. By the way, I can't leave a comment on your blog from this site but only from my blogspot one. Just letting you know in case you want to look at your settings.

  6. Me and the Mrs. just celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary on May 4th.

    Plan aheasd on how you are going to handle certain situations.

    When someone flirts with you or you see someone flirting with your spouse. Determine your response BEFORE you need one.

    You are NOT married to your parents. Your SPOUSE is your FIRST priority.

    The BEST way to demonstrate love to your children is to love your spouse.

    Marriage is about committment NOT love. Love can be real fickle over a period of several decades.

    You really are NOT as special as you think you are. (haha) 🙂

  7. All of these are so good! I must admit, however, that I especially like the last one. Truly, I think that sometimes we’re so intent on what we want and need and feel that we forget about the other person. One day after church, my husband asked me what I’d learned. I said I was reminded that I was to think first of him and what would make him happy before I thought of myself.He said, “You had to go to church to find that out? I always think of what kinds of things I can do to make you happy.” And you know, he really does. That day was sort of a turning point for me because I pretty much always think of him first now, especially if I find myself getting all perturbed about me me me me me me and what I want.

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