John Gottman says there are only two things you need to do to have a successful marriage.
It’s Wednesday, the day we always talk marriage! Today I want to talk about what makes a successful marriage, and according to John Gottman, it’s pretty simple. It’s all in your attitude.
Let me tell you the story of two women that I know.
One lady, we’ll call her Maude, is a senior. She hangs out with a lot of other senior ladies doing a particular hobby, which I can’t mention because my hometown will know who I’m talking about. 🙂 She’s a riot, but every time she talks about her husband Gerry she complains about him. When the kids were little she could never leave him alone with them. He’s lazy. He doesn’t know how to cook. He forgets birthdays. He’s just a big kid himself.
I didn’t have a very high opinion of Gerry until one day he walked in and I actually met him. I was expecting a gruff, angry man. Instead I met a teddy bear whose eyes twinkled as he joked with everybody else there. But when he looked at Maude, his eyes grew almost dead. She picked at him, and he turned away. He was a great guy–but she didn’t see it.
Then there’s a university friend I’ll call Elaine. She and her husband Todd are complete opposites–they’ve done the Myers Briggs personality test and she’s an ISFP and he’s an ENTJ. He’s never held a job for more than 3 years, because he’s always trying new entrepreneurial ventures–most of which succeed. He’s got several businesses on the go now, but life is hectic. And his hobbies? They’re hectic, too. She’d like to sit and be quiet but he wants adventure. She thrives on stability; he thrives on every new thing.
And when she talks about him she may tease him, but she does it while touching his arm. She smiles when she looks at him. She’s impressed by his many different ideas. And she’s always saying nice things about him to other people.
John Gottman, who has been studying the “Science of Marriage” for several decades, would call Elaine a Marriage Master and Maude a Marriage Disaster. And the difference between the two is often not huge. It’s in two little things, according to a new study.
In a Successful Marriage People Scan for Successes
Contempt is the number one thing that drives people apart. Contempt says, “you aren’t doing this right and you never will.” Contempt judges and leaves people in the dust. Maude and Gerry were still technically married, but they hadn’t been happy in decades.
And contempt means that you notice failures, not successes. What’s the point in noticing a success? Sure, he may have said that one particular thing nicely, but that doesn’t count if he never remembers my birthday and works so hard that he’s rarely here. He may have put the kids in bed tonight so I can have some time to myself but that doesn’t count because he worked last Saturday and left me with all the kids and he’s always doing that. You see yourself as the martyr and him as the bad one, and no matter what he does, you don’t give him credit, because he can never dig himself out of the hole he’s in.
Suggestion: For one week, thank him every chance you get for every nice thing he does. Don’t ask whether he deserves it. Don’t think, “if I thank him for this he’ll think he’s off the hook about that.” Just do it.
Why? Because when you have to thank him, you have to look for things that he does that are good. When you look for them, you see them. You think about him. And you end up thinking of him in a new way.
In a Successful Marriage People Turn Towards Each Other
Your husband walks in the door and yells, “Hi! I’m home!” What do you do? Do you get up and give him a kiss, or do you ignore him and keep cooking dinner? Your husband says, “I saw a woman today who looks just like this girl I used to live beside when I was little. You don’t think it could be her, do you?” Do you reply,
- How would I know?
- Don’t be silly. You grew up across the country from here.
- Neat! Who was the girl you grew up with?
- You never know. Remember when we met my old Math teacher at the Grand Canyon?
When the husband walked in the door and called out, that was a “bid” for connection, Gottman says. When he began that conversation about the woman he recognized, it was another bid. In successful marriages, people scan for these “bids”, and when they happen, they move towards each other. Either literally–as in going to the door and hugging him–or in conversation–as with the last two replies, rather than the first two replies. They don’t cut someone off, they continue.
Suggestion: For one week, really listen to everything your husband says. Continue conversations and pay attention.
Why: You show your husband you value him. And as you talk, you do grow closer.
Need More Help to Feel Close?
That’s what my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage is all about.
Small changes. Tiny changes. That make all the difference!
It’s not about learning to be nicer. It’s about learning to be good, and figuring out what that looks like in your particular relationship. And when you find that out–things will get better! Learn to think differently. And you’ll have a different marriage!
That’s it–just two things that can change the whole dynamic of your marriage.
I think women sometimes get in this mindset that says something like, “my marriage isn’t great and it never will be because my husband just doesn’t get it”, and then they give up trying. They relate to their husbands like the husbands are simply always wrong. They put all of their efforts into their kids, or into their jobs, or into their ministries. And even if everyone else can see that they’re married to a great guy, they can’t see it themselves. They gave up a long time ago, and sigh about him all the time.
And most people who are like this won’t even realize that this blog post is about them.
If you believe that your husband just doesn’t get it, and that you are destined to have a lousy marriage, I’m talking to you. If you believe that your husband is hopeless when it comes to the kids or any kind of personal interaction, I’m talking to you. If you believe that your husband mostly makes you miserable, I’m talking to you. If you believe that your job is to put up with your husband for the rest of your life, but that you’ll never be happy, I’m talking to you.
You are scanning for mistakes. Stop it. Your husband isn’t the only reason your marriage is distant–you’ve decided to make that distance bigger! Start scanning for successes and thank him for them and mention them immediately.
And stop pulling away from him. When he says something that could bring you closer, pull in closer. Pay attention.
Do you realize how small these two things are? Like Shaunti Feldhahn found, the key to successful marriages tends to be in the small things, like saying thank you to your husband.
No, they don’t solve all marriage problems. But what they do do is lower the tension in your marriage so that you’re relaxed around each other because you have goodwill. And if you’re relaxed and feel positively, you can talk about those bigger issues and deal with them so much more effectively.
Many good, Christian women show their husbands contempt (and many husbands show their wives contempt; I understand that, it’s just that I’m writing to women on this blog). That’s not doing your kids any favours. Show your husband love instead!
I’m perhaps more passionate about this today because I’ve seen it in several marriages close to me lately, and that’s why I’ve been going on and on about it. But it’s so important: scan for success. Pull closer. Say nice things. Don’t overanalyze it. Don’t wonder if he deserves it. Don’t worry that it will make him think he gets off scot free. Just do it. Please. And see what happens.