The statistics about divorce rates in the United States can scare any couple into thinking that their marriage is doomed. The actual divorce rates have been disputed for many reasons; however, the truth remains that many marriages end in divorce. Often divorce results because partners have given up and feel hopeless about the relationship. Certainly, divorce is likely inevitable for many couples; however, there is hope for those who wish to repair and restore their marriage.
Dr. John Gottman is a well-known researcher in the area of marriage and divorce. He has written multiple articles and books on this subject. What he has to say is important and valid because it’s based on years of accumulated research. Through his studies, he has identified ways in which couples can improve their relationship, preventing divorce.
Below are 4 proven ways to improve your marriage:
- Engage in at least 5 times more positive interactions than negative ones. Dr. Gottman found that this magic ratio quite accurately predicted divorce. Arguing, yelling and screaming wasn’t necessarily the problem. It is when the negative interactions outnumber the positive interactions. Focus on increasing the times when you smile, touch, laugh, and pay compliments to your partner. In particular, show you care, show interest and show affection to your partner.
- Avoid these toxic communication patterns: contempt, stonewalling, defensiveness, and criticism. Dr. Gottman refers to these as the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse. Once couples engage in these behaviors, the escalation of negativity and tension are very likely. If you find that you are demonstrating one of these behaviors, try to identify the underlying cause of what drove you to that point and respond in a healthier way. Try to validate and listen to your partner’s concerns.
- When you feel upset, hurt, and angered by your partner, try to calm down. It is important to relax your activated nervous system. When we have a fight with our partner, our bodies go through a physiological change that triggers the stress response. For example, you may feel your heart race, an increase in sweating, or shaking. Under this condition, we are more likely to respond negatively. Instead, take some deep and slow breaths, ground yourself, avoid negative thinking, exercise, take a walk. Note that it may take up to 20 minutes for your body to return to baseline.
- Engage in marriage counseling or couples therapy. Meeting with an experienced psychologist or marriage counselor, your spouse and you will have a safe and supportive place to discuss your concerns, identify problems in the relationship, resolve conflict, work through unresolved issues, and learn healthier ways to communicate. Additionally, a psychologist can address issues related to parenting and mental health issues that might be impacting the relationship. Although counseling has been shown to be effective, less than 5% of divorcing couples actually seek marriage counseling.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail: What you can learn from the breakthrough research to make your marriage last. New York: Simon & Schuster.