John Gottman, author and psychologist, is well known for conducting many studies surrounding the predictability of divorce. After a 15-minute conversation with a couple, followed by questions about satisfaction and relationship behaviours, Gottman and his team discovered they could predict whether or not a marriage would result in divorce with 93% accuracy. 93% accuracy. That’s both impressive and incredibly saddening. The reality, more in this modern day than ever before, is that nearly half of relationships end in a break up, separation or divorce. What I want to share with you, my friend, is how to equip you and your partner to beat the odds and live in a truly satisfying, successful partnership. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to train yourself to identify the three strongest indicators and work to overcome those behaviours.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Have you ever found yourself picking up after your partner, only to wind up making a comment to them about so much more than leaving a towel on the floor or a dirty dish on the counter? Criticism without the genuine aim of being constructive and positive will only ever lead to hurt feelings and a moment in time you really can’t undo. Seemingly small things like calling your partner “stupid” or reminding them that you’re the smarter one in the duo can have irreparable effects on your relationship.
When you feel yourself about to criticize your partner (and especially in heated circumstances, as mentioned), take a deep breath and count to ten. The simple “calm down” trick that you likely learned as a child will honestly do wonders even in many adult situations. If you have to, leave the room until you calm down and know you won't say something you regret. Remind yourself that your partnership is more important and more valuable than this one moment, this one dirty dish, and this one unfolded towel. Once you are feeling much more calm, take a moment to think about the positives in your partner, even if you don't want to. When you work to replace your criticism habit with thoughts of praise, even in small bits, you will see the tension between the two of you lessen.
I was reading an article recently and the author mentioned something about how allowing negativity into your mind and heart is like stepping into quicksand. It’s real easy to get sucked down inside of it and really, really hard to get back out. The saying reminded me of a time that a client was telling me about how she had accidentally broken a wine glass and it turned into a full on argument between her and her spouse – about just about everything except the wine glass.
Jumping to defend yourself by saying, “It was an accident!” or “It wasn’t my fault!” implies, before your partner even speaks, that you expect them to attack you. This, in turns, puts the both of you on the defensive and builds a big, fat, metaphorical wall between the two of you.
You have several options for combatting defensiveness, but the most powerful is practicing accountability and recognition. Are you late to your dinner reservation because you lost track of time? Own up to it and avoid turning things around and saying something like, "oh, you're late sometimes too!" Did your partner break a vase while cleaning? Brush it off, they didn't do it on purpose and focus on appreciating you have someone who’s willingly putting in effort to share household duties.
3. Checking Out
There are a couple of terms for this particular behaviour, such as “stonewalling,” but I prefer the term “checking out.” This is what happens when you’re in mid argument with your partner and one – or both – of you whips out your phone and goes dead silent. A partner can also “check out” by simply walking away from a conversation, leaving the space or even leaving the home for a walk or drive. (this is different then briefly leaving the room to calm yourself down before re-entering, as mentioned in the Criticism piece). The problem with this type of behaviour is that it demonstrates you are either not invested in reaching a resolution or healing your relationship, or that what you were arguing about doesn’t mean that much to you in the first place. Both, as you can probably see, are super problematic.
The next time you go to bring something up with your partner, don’t do it half way. If it truly means enough to you, and has affected you deeply enough, to bring up – then do it right. Ditch all distractions and truly talk it out with the intention of reaching a mutually satisfactory resolution. If your partner asks to speak with you, dedicate your full attention to them. This means that your phone is down, the TV’s off and you’re listening full on.
Friend, if you work to identify these behaviours on an ongoing basis and make conscious, intentional decisions to replace the behaviours with positive ones – you will substantially increase the odds of enjoying a successful partnership.
To your authenticity,