Happy and successful marriage requires hard work and while building constructive relationship skills. The keys to having a healthy marriage include sharing your needs, making decisions together, dealing with conflict effectively, and focusing on changing yourself rather than changing your partner while improving your skills to influence your partner.
With their impressive research, John Gottman and his team describe the main factors that predict long term marriage success and at the same time what makes marriage unsuccessful and what predict divorce. He describes “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” as the main factors that lead to divorce.
The four horseman of the apocalypse include negative type of communication:
Criticism – Negative criticism or attacking your partner’s character or personality, while focusing that you are right and your partner is wrong. It is as one partner diagnoses the other person defects.
Defensiveness – Seeing yourself as the victim. Once feeling victimize, it is normal to attack back rather than taking responsibility or proactive approach to help the situation.
Contempt – Any statement you make from a superior position over your partner. Speaking down and attempt of “attacking” your partner’s sense of self usually with the intent of hurting or insulting the other person.
Stonewalling – Strategically withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict or giving up the intention of building the relationship. Stonewalling conveys disapproval, cold, distance, disconnection, and even anger.
Gottman also adds that suppression of affect or feelings is another factor that leads to divorce, particularly among long-term unhealthy marriage.
From the above we can conclude that healthy marriage would requires the absence of negative escalation when conflict take place and the presence of a positive affect despite of disagreements. To avoid escalation of conflict, John Gottman emphasizes the importance of soft start up, in other words, the initiator of the discussion in a conflict should start in a soft manner, helping the other partner to listen and to accept influence. Starting the conflict in a soft way promotes positive affect and soothes the partner and reduces defensiveness.
Since most problems between couples never find a permanent solution anyway, Gottman suggest that it would be more beneficial to focus on the communication pattern and the emotional context of the relationship. Most healthy couples, even though don’t necessary solve their problem, are able to maintain healthy dynamic, since they engage with positive affects and conducting a dialogue that portray caring while using tender way and humor.