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Marriage and Family


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02/01/2010 - One of many similarities I know my marriage has to that of our friends' is the existence of disagreements. I am amazed as I look back to the very beginning of our marriage at the type of compromises to which my wife and I have had to come. Some topics are things of which I never dreamed. For example, I never would have thought that it would be so important that the toilet paper is placed so that it unrolls across the top, rather than the bottom. As a bachelor, I felt I was doing well by even having a roll on the dispenser. My wife also had to learn the importance of rinsing out the kitchen sink if anything other than water entered it. This was a quirk of mine that even caught me by surprise. Over time, my wife and I also had to compromise where we disagreed on matters of greater importance.

Disagreement in a relationship is common and to be expected. Topics can range from very important such as whether or not a job offer is accepted which could move the family clear across the country down to minor issues like how the toilet paper unrolls or when to rinse out the kitchen sink. No matter how important the topic, a disagreement is often accompanied with anger. If you doubt that trivial matters may lead to anger, ask yourselves these questions. Ladies, how often have you become irritated over the toilet seat being left up, or men, how have you felt when a borrowed tool does not make it back to its designated spot?

I do have good news for anyone who may have felt some anxiety about the existence of this anger. In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman states "Anger between husband and wife doesn't itself predict marital meltdown (26)." Gottman states that the danger is not in the anger itself, rather, the threat lies in the way the couple argues. He goes on to discuss four different kinds of negativity which are lethal to a relationship. He calls this "The four horsemen of the apocalypse." Over the next few issues we will go over each of these horsemen. Please note, at the end of this article I have cited Gottman's book and I would encourage any person, in a relationship or planning to be, to read it.

Before getting to "the four horsemen", Gottman speaks about the danger of a "harsh startup" in a disagreement. Any form of negativity, accusations, criticism or sarcasm communicates contempt. When this exists, the message is that the problem is not the topic, but the other person. Listen to what Gottman says his research has shown.

Statistics tell the story: 96 percent of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of a fifteen minute interaction! A harsh startup simply dooms you to failure. So if you begin a discussion that way, you might as well pull the plug, take a breather, and start over (27).

Heed his advice. Take note of how you start your conversations and if you notice the existence negativity, accusation, criticism or sarcasm, take a time out, gather your thoughts then try again.

* Gottman, J.M. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.

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