How to Save Your Marriage from Divorce
Stop these four things to reduce conflict today
If your marriage is full of conflict there is a way to stop the fighting. It may not solve all the problems, but it could help you stay in a conversation long enough to listen and understand. Here goes:
- Stop criticizing.
- Stop being defensive.
- Stop letting emotions get out of control.
- Stop walking away and not coming back.
That sounds easy right? Well, simple but not easy. Why? Because you’ve been communicating ways that don’t work for a long time – maybe your whole life. But trust me when you stop these four things your marriage will get better. How do I know? I learned from the experts.
Relationship experts Drs. John & Julie Gottman, psychologists at the Gottman Institute, have 40 years of research to prove this fact. John Gottman even claims he can predict with over 90% certainty that a couple is headed for divorce after just 15 minutes in a counseling session if these four things, plus a couple of others, are part of their communication style. The good news is they can be unlearned, too, and couples can communicate in new ways that make a happier marriage. So, let’s get right to how to save your relationship.
Stop Criticizing and use a Gentle Startup
Criticism is harsh, comes from a place of superiority, and sounds like an attack. “What kind of person would do that? Criticism implies your partner is defective and you are superior. What can you do differently?
Starting a conversation with a Gentle Startup expresses a positive need. “I get confused when you do that. Can you help me understand?” offers bid for connection to gain understanding about the person you love. Opening a conversation gently allows your partner to listen better.
Stop being Defensive and Take Responsibility
Defensiveness sounds like “What can’t you stop nagging me? It’s not my fault that I forgot. You do it too sometimes.”
When you Take Responsibility, you apologize for what you did wrong and try to make it up to your partner. It sounds like “Wow, you’re right. I’m sorry I told you I would do that for you and didn’t follow through. Can I do it tomorrow or is that something I can do right now for you?” It doesn’t dismiss your partner’s feelings. It turns toward them to repair what you did wrong.
Stop being Contemptuous and Describe Your Own Feelings
Contempt is made up of vicious and cruel insults that demean or belittle your partner and is the most damaging of all of these “Four Horsemen” tactics. Examples of contempt are rolling your eyes, name calling, or mockery. “Poor little baby. Did I hurt your little feelings? You’re so pathetic.” Contempt normally stems from needs that have not been met over a period of time or when trust has been broken in a relationship. Contempt is the single best predictor of divorce or an unhappy relationship, and means that the contemptuous person has lost hope.
Describing your own feelings tells your own story and expresses your needs using “I” statements: I feel __________ about ____________. I need ______________. ” Making a clear ask of your partner helps them know and understand you and allows them to choose to help meet your needs. Contempt often builds when a couple has been critical and defensive so long that both have stopped listening to understand each other. Make listening to your partner your number one priority, talk about your own positive needs instead of a critical attack, and see how much better your conversations could be.
Stop Stonewalling and Calm Yourself Down
Stonewalling is taking yourself out of the conversation by refusing to participate, walking away, or physically leaving the area. Stonewalling is half right – it does give you a minute away from the situation, but way too often the time is spent rehashing the incident rather than calming your emotions. It also leaves your partner feeling ignored and dismissed.
Instead Calm Yourself Down / Self-soothe. There are three steps to the process. First, tell your partner what you’re doing. “I need to step away for a minute and take a break. I’ll be back.” That lets your partner know why you need a minute, that you care, and that you plan to come back calmer. Second, take at least a 20 minute break and use that time to soothe yourself. Read a magazine, take a quick shower, pet the dog, but don’t keep the argument going in your head. Third, come back to the conversation, take responsibility for your part in the escalation of the conflict, and then turn toward your partner to listen and understand. Both partners benefit from this exercise to reduce flooding of emotions and to be able to listen and be heard.
So, there you have it. Learn more in the book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver. Call if you need a guide through the process call for a counseling appointment today. Stopping these four things could improve your communication and keep you out of divorce court today! Just call 850.450.7223 today or make an appointment in our secure client portal at https://believehopeinspire.securepatientarea.com/portal/.
Dianne Presley, LCSW, BC-TMH
Believe, Hope, Inspire Wellness Services LLC
Anxiety, Depression, Loss and Relationship Therapy
Gottman Level 1 and Level 2 Training in Couples Method Therapist
Gottman Training in Traumas and Affairs and in Couples in Addiction
Gottman Educator in 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work and Bringing Baby Home
Certified Brain Based Success Coach