What Every Wife Ought to Know about Marriage Conflict

If I had the opportunity to share one essential marital tool with every wife in America, I know exactly what I would say:

Learn to bring up difficult topics with your partner in a calm, quiet and focused voice.

Marital researcher Dr. John Gottman has studied tens of thousands of marital conversations over 30 + years. He has found that there are 4 distinct communication habits that are poison to happy relationships. He calls them the “Four Horsemen,” like the biblical horsemen that bring in the end of times in the book of Revelation.

He has learned that men have a faster body response of adrenaline (increased heart rate, blood flow to the extremities, tunnel focus of attention) than most women to partner conflict. That means that when many women are just getting into the meat of their problem, their partner has become ready to run, fight and defend. It makes it very hard for men to stay focused and listen calmly without enormous effort.

If every woman could develop the personal skill of bringing up difficult discussions with their partner in a calmer way, their male partner is less apt to “flood,” focus and defend. And the conversation is more likely to be productive and problem-solving.

It’s a skill we practice in therapy all the time. Are you able to bring difficult topics up to your partner in a calm, cooperative way? If not, you may want to start working on this skill.

What is it that I wish I could tell every husband in America? Well, that’s for next time.

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Just Kidding…..Not

I’ve had the pleasure of being around girls in their early teens quite a lot the past few years, and I have noticed a quirky turn of their conversation that has got me thinking.

One girl in the midst of a conversation with another girl will say something critical, blunt, or even hostile;  pause;  and then follow up immediately with a smile and “Just kidding!” Thinking it might have been a style of humor unique to one (particular) girl I know very well, I listened for it when these girls were together in groups, or chatting back and forth on Facebook, or in conversations I overheard while driving or waiting for them (I’m always waiting for them).

from the film ” Mean Girls”

Over and over the same pattern. Critique, “just kidding,” then the other girl usually follows with a response that might be equally snarly and if not met with a light heart and smile in return. The first girl might answer with another blunt remark. Et cetera. I’ve often wonder how these relationships survive this emotional dodge and weave. And the answer is, many don’t.

I think that this particular stage of relationship building, coupled with the rocketing growth of body and brain in this age of adolescent girls makes this a way that girls are able to manage aggression with one another. In the same way that adolescent boys may push, poke and even swing at one another on a daily basis, girls push, poke and swing with words, attitudes and facial expressions that emote hostility and aggression.

I’ve not been reading the adolescent literature lately, and so I can’t quote the latest author that has put this observation into article or book form: I guarantee someone has had this thought before me. But I wonder if any one who is around this age group (11-17) of girls from a different part of the US or outside our country shares this or a different observation.

I know a few readers of this blog are living around the world in quite different cultures. If you have an observation, comment below. I’d love to hear what you’re hearing! No kidding.