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Articles from June 2006

June 20, 2006

Disrupting His Baseball Game

Mike's watching a baseball game on TV. Melanie wants him to go with her to the nursery to pick out some flowers for the garden. Melanie knows if they don't go soon, they won't be able to plant tomorrow. Recently, gardening's been the one activity they actually enjoy together. She walks into the family room and asks Mike when he'll be ready to go. He doesn't even answer, just waves her off. Melanie seems uncertain whether she'll cry or heave the bowl of chips across the room. This would be a very good time to Assume Love.

Why? For Mike? Perhaps -- he'll surely appreciate her calmer mood -- but mainly for Melanie. A moment ago, she looked forward to a shared, enjoyable activity. Now, she feels dismissed, put off, unappreciated, alone, mistreated, unloved, and ready to chuck the plans for the garden. She's also angry at the person she loves most in the whole world, and that's not a great feeling, either.

Even if Mike turned off the ball game right now, itwould not fix Melanie's mood. But she can fix it. She would start with the assumption that Mike still loves her dearly and still possesses all of the wonderful qualities that attracted her to him. Melanie doesn't need to believe any of this just yet. She just needs to assume he does for a moment. If he did, what might his silence and his brush-off mean?

Melanie comes up with a few. First, she thinks Mike might have already been upset about something else and overloaded with one too many annoyances to remember to be kind. She's not sure about this possibility. Next, she considers whether Mike might believe he communicated something about their trip to her with his hand signal. She's unconvinced, but she notices her anger fades a bit. She comes up with a third possibility. Perhaps she disrupted an intense moment in the game, one of those rare moments when a person focuses intently on the TV action, waiting for the next split second and the next.

Melanie looks at Mike, considering this possibility. Mike, still oblivious to her, relaxes back in his seat. The game cuts to a commercial. Mike turns to Melanie and says, in complete innocence, "OK, let's go." And because she has entertained the possibility that Mike's still the loving guy she married, Melanie is ready.

June 3, 2006

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

One of the most widely read and cited books on marriage is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman, Ph.D., and Nan Silver.

Gottman can predict whether a couple will divorce after watching and listening to them for only five minutes. His predictions are correct 91% of the time. He watches for four things as they try to resolve an ongoing disagreement. Here's what tells him a couple is likely to divorce:
1. A harsh startup to the discussion
2. The "Four Horsemen" of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling
3. Flooding (feeling so overwhelmed that you avoid further discussion)
4. Body language indicating a fight-or-flight response
5. Failed repair attempts
6. Bad memories (rewritten history of their relationship)

The antidote, Gottman claims, is a strong friendship between husband and wife. This helps them remember, when things go badly, that they are dealing with a friend. Gottman claims that 69% of all marital conflicts don't get resolved, perhaps can't be resolved. Those who enjoy their marriages find playful and supportive ways of dealing with these differences.

His Seven Principles emphasize Emotional Intelligence and friendship. Each one comes with a set of exercises. Couples who do them together will build Emotional Intelligence skills and strengthen their friendship with each other.

Those who already Assume Love will find it much easier to master Gottman's Seven Principles. They will also have a great tool for fighting off the Four Horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. John M. Gottman, Ph.D., and Nan Silver. New York: Crown, 1999. 288 pages.

The Author

Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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