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Why Marriages Succeed Or Fail

John Gottman

Two major conflict areas are sex and housework. Boys grow up conditioned by society to see sex as a pure pleasure, disconnected from emotional commitment. So they can want sex even when feeling angry or unhappy. Women need to feel emotional closeness before wanting to have sex. Constant complaint that "He never touches me unless he wants sex, and I need affection on a daily basis to feel sexy."

And guys not pulling their weight with housekeeping seen as treating wife as a servant. Although many men claim to be doing fair share, men usually over-estimate their contribution, and never actually initiate a discussion as to how it is being divvied up.

Different negotiating styles. Women are the ones who are the emotional caretakers of the relationship, so they are the ones who bring up the issues. Men keen to avoid the intense negative emotions, so try to be rational, conciliatory and rush too quickly to a 'solution' (ie make the problem go away).

Husband's memories of marriage events are far more predictive of whether couple will stay together than wife's. Whether he talks fondly of her and what attracted him to her as opposed to his disappointments. Can change that simply by thinking more about the good times.

Men get flooded by criticism, women by contempt.

Have to accept that conflict and disagreement are there in all marriages. Key is how disagreements are aired - whether your style escalates tension or leads to a feeling of resolution.

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First step is to be able to calm down. This is exact opposite to the flooding from criticism/contempt. More important for men because takes less to flood them, which then leads them to stonewall and/or say things you later regret. Author suggests take pulse every 5 minutes to monitor arousal. If find heart pumping, need to call a timeout to allow cool down. And need a good 20 minutes at least. If come back still aroused, what happens is you pick up, and mirror, whatever emotion other person is showing (usually anger or irritation).

Second step is to speak nondefensively. Defensiveness leads to endless spirals of negativity. Most important tactic to avoid it is to reintroduce praise and admiration into your relationship. By dwelling on what is wrong with yr marriage, you lose sight of what is right. Need to remind yourself that bad bits don't outweigh good bits. Have to listen defensively too - and that includes body language - eliminating sneers or angry or hostile expressions.

Third step is validation. Men try to offer rational practical solutions to wife's emotional feelings. She's not in the market for advice; she wants to be heard and understood. Often that can be as simple as an apology. "I'm sorry. I was wrong."

Fourth is overlearning - try and try again. Like learning to drive - the theory is all very well, but you need constant practice to become competent.

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