1) A Continual Negative Emphasis
At times, it is necessary to share constructive criticism or to voice your dislike over a particular situation. Sometimes negativity can prove helpful, in that it may point out ineffective patterns or lead to a better solution. However, negativity should not be an element that defines your marriage relationship. Some spouses get so caught up exposing their partner’s flaws that they fail to mention anything uplifting. They are continually accentuating the negative while eliminating the positive. They may even begin to interpret positive or neutral statements as negative.
According to Dr. Gottman in his book, “Bridging the Couple Chasm,” stable relationships contain five positive interactions for every negative one. With couples likely to face divorce, the ratio was less than one positive interaction for every negative reaction.
Gottman cites another researcher, Fritz Heider, who found that unhappy spouses often excused their own faults as the result of a bad day or some other external circumstance. However, they categorized their partner’s weaknesses as “lasting, negative personality traits or character flaws.” Spouses who have these tendencies may even alter their memories of the early “happy” days of their relationship to be full of friction. Gottman says there is little hope for couples that have become so negative they re-write the history of their relationship.
If you find that the negative far outweighs the positive in your marriage, it might be a good idea to meet with a professional Christian counselor in spokane.
2) Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling
Dr. Gottman refers to the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” as the indisputable elements present at the end of a marriage: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. As these get worse, so does the relationship. The general pattern is for wives to become more critical and for husbands to respond by stonewalling them. Through studying a number of couples, Dr. Gottman also discovered that as negativity increased within a relationship, spouses were more likely to reject their partner’s attempts at emotional connection.
3) Emotional Withdrawal and Disengagement
As the relationship deteriorates, emotions tend to dry up altogether. Disagreements become less passionate. Camaraderie disappears. Gottman observed, “There was a marked lack of affection, shared humor, question-asking, active interest, excitement, joy, support, and empathy.” As with the previous indicator, this characteristic also included partners ignoring the other’s attempts at showing affection.
4) Resistance Against Improvement Attempts
Disagreements in a marriage relationship can actually be used to improve the union between a husband and wife – but only if both partners view them as constructive. The goal of any relationship should not be to avoid conflict – if that is the case, the marriage will likely have no chance to grow or strengthen.
The key skill to develop is the ability to keep the inevitable disagreements from escalating into full-blown conflict. Learning how to approach issues in a concern with a Christ-like perspective will do wonders for your marriage. Refusing to discuss points of discord will only make the tension worse.
If you need to address an issue with your spouse, put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would like to be treated. Approach them with gentleness and respect, not while your emotions are heated. However, if they do still get upset, don’t retreat. Stand firm in your position, but with kindness and humility.
5) Frequent Angry Outbursts
Anger often results in more anger. If one partner begins a conversation in “attack mode” with steam blowing out of their nostrils, it is likely that the other partner will retaliate in a similar manner – either that, or withdraw completely (think “fight or flight”).
Consider these words from Proverbs: “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” (Prov. 15:18 NIV) It can be hard to remain calm when someone verbally attacks you but refusing to respond to anger with more anger may help diffuse heated arguments between you and your spouse. Let them know you appreciate their frustration, but would rather discuss the issue in a rational manner. Addressing problems is an essential part of marriage, but there is a healthy way to do it. Barreling at your spouse in a huff, or bristling every time they approach you with a criticism, is not the way to move forward effectively.
A persistent inability to productively deal with issues and conflict in marriage will eventually destroy the relationship. If this is an issue between you and your spouse, consider the option of anger management counseling with a trained professional.
6) Physical Affects of Stress
Some couples’ inability to deal peacefully with disagreements manifests in physical symptoms. It can increase your heart rate, affect your nervous system, and suppress your immune system. This constant anticipation of a threat can lead to “(a) a decrease in one’s ability to take in information (reduced hearing, reduced peripheral vision, problems with shifting attention away from a defensive posture), (b) an increase in defensiveness, (c) a reduction in the ability to be creative in problem-solving, and (d) a reduction in the ability to listen and empathize.” You become so stressed and overwhelmed with anticipating conflict from your spouse it damages your health and inhibits your ability to deal with everyday life.
7) Husband’s Refusal to Accept Influence from Wife
Regardless of your view on submission within marriage, allowing one spouse to make all the decisions and lord over the other is not a recipe for a healthy relationship. However, in his book, Gottman is not only referring to decision-making. He also refers to the importance of being emotionally engaged with your spouse. Men resist their wives’ influence when they refuse to be emotionally involved in the marriage. This characteristic also manifests itself in husbands responding with belligerence, contempt, and defensiveness when their wives approach them with problems or complaints.
Think back to the fact that you married your spouse because their presence enhanced your life. They add qualities that were not there before. Spouses damage their marriage when they ignore their mate’s unique insights and contributions.
Christian Marriage Counseling for Struggling Couples
If one or more of the warning signs described above are present in your marriage, consider making an appointment with a professional Christian marriage counselor. A trained counselor can offer neutral ground and tested principles for getting your marriage back on track before it’s too late. Take advantage of the help offered by a Christian counselor. Your marriage is worth fighting for.
“Bridging the Couple Chasm,” by John Gottman, Ph.D. and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D.Photos
“Wedding Day,” courtesy of Ben Rosett, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Wedding Wait,” courtesy of Scott Webb, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Happily Ever After,” courtesy of Ben Rosett, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License