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Marriage and Family


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03/01/2010 - In the last issue, I began discussing Dr. John Gottman's concept of "the four horsemen of the apocalypse" in a disagreement. His book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is the source from which I pulled this information and is a book I would highly recommend for anyone to read.

Movies today tend to depict an errant image of what marriage will look like. The majority of the popular movies that deal with relationships seem to follow the common format of a romantic beginning, a critical issue which nearly destroys the relationship followed by an even more romantic reunion with the implication of "happily ever after." What is missed is the fact that any relationship must deal with the day-to-day business of home, work, chores, finances and numerous other unmentioned duties. Often, one (or both) persons may begin to feel like the relationship has taken a back seat. Enter complaints.

Dr. Gottman argues that complaints will always exist about the person with whom you live (pg. 27) but complaints can turn into criticism. Criticism is horseman number one. According to Gottman, the difference is that "A complaint only addresses the specific action at which your spouse failed. A criticism…adds on some negative words about your mate's character and personality (27)." A complaint is designed to address an issue in which there is a needed or desired change. A criticism will place a negative moral value on the person due to the complained about action.

Here is an example. Last issue I spoke about two differences my wife and I have. She desires to have the toilet paper unroll across the top; I don't care. I desire to see the kitchen sink rinsed out after each use; this is not her focus. If I put the toilet paper on wrong, she could complain to me by saying "It really bother's me when you put the toilet paper on so that it unrolls from the bottom. Can you please start putting it on the other way?" I can complain about the sink by saying something about how I feel when the sink is not rinsed out. On the other hand, a criticism would look like this: "I don't know if you are forgetful or just plain lazy but you never rinse out the sink!" If I were to approach my wife like this, she would feel attacked and an argument would ensue. Criticism will happen but the problem, Gottman argues, is that when pervasive it paves the way for the next horseman.

We will all encounter things that our spouse does or doesn't do which we would like to see changed. Focus on speaking about how you feel when that thing comes up, and then politely ask for a change. Do not allow yourself to place a label on your spouse. Remember to use this approach. "I feel __________ when ___________."

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

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