This critical skill is not limited to heterosexual couples. It’s essential in same-sex relationships as well, but the research shows that gay and lesbian couples are notably better at it than straight couples. See The 12 Year Study for more on this.
I want you to meet Lauren and Steven.* While Steven believes an equal partnership is the key to a happy and lasting marriage, his actions speak differently.
Steven: “The guys and I are going fishing this weekend. We are leaving later tonight.”
Lauren: “But my girlfriends are staying with us on Friday, and I need help cleaning the house tonight. We talked about this. How could you forget? Can you leave tomorrow morning?”
Steven: “How did you forget I have my guys trip? I can’t change our departure schedule. We are leaving in a few hours.”
Lauren’s anger boils and she storms out of the kitchen.
Feeling overwhelmed, Steven pours himself a glass of whiskey and turns on the football game.
When Lauren walks back into the room to talk, he stonewalls her. She starts to cry. He announces he needs to work on his truck and leaves the room.
Arguments like these are full of accusations, making it difficult to determine the underlying cause. What is clear is Steven’s unwillingness to accept Lauren’s influence.
It’s not that marriage can’t survive moments of anger, complaints, or criticism. They can. Couples get in trouble when they match negativity with negativity instead of making repairs to de-escalate conflict. Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that 65% of men increase negativity during an argument.
Steven’s response doesn’t show that he hears Lauren’s complaint. Instead, he responds with defensiveness and sends a complaint right back: Why didn’t she remember his plans?
The Four Horsemen – criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling – are telltale signs that a man is resisting his wife’s influence.
My point is not to insult men. It takes two to make a marriage work and it is just as important for wives to treat their husbands with honor and respect. But Dr. Gottman’s research indicates that a majority of wives – even in unhappy marriages – already do this.
This doesn’t mean women don’t get angry and even contemptuous of their husbands. It just means that they let their husbands influence their decision making by taking their opinions and feelings into account. Data suggests that men do not return the favor.
Statistically speaking, Dr. Gottman’s research shows there is an 81% chance that a marriage will self-implode when a man is unwilling to share power.
What Men Can Learn From Women
There are books that say men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While this isn’t literally true, men and women often do feel alien to each other.