I stood across from my wife at her Grandmother’s house paralyzed when I heard the words that I am finished with this relationship. All I could attempt to do is to try and persuade her not to be hasty, to minimize the seriousness of this situation by downplaying her points. To deflect the idea of her staying at her family’s home and not coming home when it’s time. Fear had taken a hold of me. Divorce in my life yet again was echoing in my mind.
Our personal experience relates to one of the tips that Hannah Fry shares in her public speech, The Mathematics of Love. She tips her hand on the idea of “How to avoid divorce” that can been viewed online. Specifically, she sources John Gottman’s research identifying the negative behavior patterns that can predict divorce.
Fry communicates: “…the most important predictors for whether or not a couple is going to get divorced was how positive or negative each partner was being in the conversation." (Fry). She continues to explain that married couples who participated in the Gottman’s scale assessment either score high in “positive points” relating to those who are “low-risk” for serious issues as opposed to those who score low in these points and have a struggling marriage finding “themselves getting into a spiral of negativity.” (Fry). Dr. Gottman is mentioned in the Gottman Institute that negativity toward each partner has “destructive behaviors, ““A Positive-to-Negative Ratio of 0.8 or Less,” and has named the most corrosive negative behavior patterns, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” (https://www.gottman.com/research/research-faqs/.)
Each one defined below as stated in the Gottman Institute:
"Criticism: stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality, i.e., giving the partner negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
Contempt: statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. Example: “You’re an idiot.”
Defensiveness: self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood. Defensiveness wards off a perceived attack. Example: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”
Stonewalling: emotional withdrawal from interaction. Example: The listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker."(https://www.gottman.com/research/research-faqs/.)
I agree with Fry’s perspective at this point. Personally, when our marriage was at its weakest, I not only took a cynical role in conversations but I also devalued her ideas. My attempt was to downplay the thought that we needed to go to church, which was very important to her. I pushed for a slow Sunday morning that included waking up late to breakfast, which would naturally lead into watching the morning football pre-game shows. I placed more emphasis on watching football than building my faith or considering my wife’s desires. Her desire and need to fellowship with friends and family took a back seat to my wants…all the time. This would have been fine, if I had tried to balance it, or compromise, even a little. But, I let defensiveness and stonewalling become my shield, and criticism and contempt my sword. Now, I look to Hebrews 10:25 in considering how we should meet others’ needs and lift one another up (1John 1:3, Romans 1:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:11). She believed (& rightly so) the fellowship of church attendance would assists us in becoming more accountable to one another, as we became more accountable to others (James 5:16). But, I disregarded her needs and desires early in our marriage, pushing her to a dark place. Similarly, my wife desired to live debt free; however, I did not consider this idea as important at that point in our life. Again, I disregarded her perspective, which resulted with financial problems we are still to facing due to my stubbornness. I used contempt and derision to minimize her willingness to confront me on these issues. I would stonewall her in conversations, refusing to discuss problems as they arose, criticizing every idea she brought to the table. Since then, I have discovered the wisdom she was trying to share. Romans 13:8 points out we should not be indebted to anyone. Proverbs 22:7 identifies debt as a source of bondage. Going further into this study, I began to reconsider how my way of relating affected my wife: Ephesians 4:31 speaks to me about releasing all the negatives such as bitterness, slander, etc. out of your heart and mind (Colossians 3:8, Ephesians 4:29). This is crucial because I was bitter and angry enough to disregard her hopes and ideas. ‘I blew her off’ even though I knew it was wrong. As Fry points out, via Gottman, it would not have been a surprise to anyone who recognized these behaviors in our marriage that divorce was imminent. Thankfully, no one has to continue in this way. We found hope…
The cycle of negativity can be broken, which leads to another of Fry’s points on Gottman’s research:
The best couples, or the most successful couples, are the ones with a really low negativity threshold. These are the couples that don't let anything go unnoticed and allow each other some room to complain. These are the couples that are continually trying to repair their own relationship, that have a much more positive outlook on their marriage. Couples that don't let things go and couples that don't let trivial things end up being a really big deal. (Fry).
As our relationship has grown, our threshold for responding to negativity has become a key factor in the restoration process. Purposefully, we changed the way we settle arguments. Initially in our marriage, we fluctuated between “successful” practices and “destructive;” but, as time went on and we grew further apart and placed less importance on the need for agreement, which created a void in our relationship that became filled with hesitation to share our true feelings in an attempt to avoid conflict. Our marriage was almost destroyed before the change happened. We had become the “typical” couple in how we were settling conflicts. Focus on the Family defines the typical couple in their online article “Strategies for Effective Conflict Resolution:” husbands tend to give in, run away, or take over, while women tend to respond to with manipulation/deception, acquiescence or defiance. (http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/money-and-finances/communicating-about-money/conflict-resolution.). Basically, it had become easier in our marriage for one of us to give in rather than work out an agreement both could commit to. Fortunately, we had people who loved us enough to confront us with these things and to lead us into what Gottman calls “positive behaviors.”
They didn’t use Gottman, though. Instead, they began pointing out the things we supposedly already believed. For instance, Ephesians 5:28-29 suggests you should love your spouse as much as yourself. If “love” is treated as such, then avoiding conflict and giving in when you know it is wrong is the least loving thing you can do. This pattern of behavior demonstrates a lack of trust in the other person’s ability or willingness to resolve a problem. As soon as this happens, no matter how “little” the initial issue, a greater issue has just presented itself. Loving you as much as myself pushes me to believe you not only want to work on this problem, but you are willing to do whatever needs to be done to correct the issue.
In most of these areas, Hannah Fry clearly aligns with what we have discovered it takes to create a healthy relationship in the sense of communication and constant reconstructing of a marriage. We need to constantly take the positive approach; the bottle ‘is half full’ rather than ‘half empty.’ The need to consider your spouse’s input as valuable as your own opinion needs to constantly be in your mind on a daily basis. Resist the need to avoid sharing your feelings, thoughts or ideas with your spouse. Finally, constantly build on your relationship using as many resources as you have access. Keeping your marriage as a priority will keep your marriage.
I stood before my wife with counselors requesting us to complete sentences to one another: “I love you most when…” As we were going through this process, I realized I was being given a second chance. It was like I was standing at the altar marrying my wife for the second time. In my heart, looking into her eyes, I felt for the first time that our marriage had a chance to be restored beyond anything we had ever had. My heart was racing with joy believing that there will be life after death to have more time to spend with my bride.
Take a moment to answer the Gottman’s Assessment Questionnaire at http://www.burtbertram.com/Downloads/Gottman_Assessment%28a%29.pdf.
Attribution for all pics: Pixabay.com