Relational habits can lead to life and health or disease and death for your marriage as surely as your habits can lead to health or disease in your body.
Dr. John Gottman has been studying marriage relationships and marriage for over for years (CLICK HERE to read his bio). He has tracked couples over extended periods of time. He also has a “marriage lab” in which he can track everything from vocal inflection to eye movement while the couples talk about topics varying from the mundane to serious points of disagreement. His book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert” is well-written, informative, and practical. I highly recommend it. (CLICK HERE to view/buy it on Amazon.com)
Dr. Gottman has identified four indicators of a marriage in serious trouble. He calls them the four horsemen.
Dr. Gottman differentiates between a complaint and criticism.
A complaint focuses on a specific action. “You said you would take out the trash and you didn’t do it. Now there are ants in the kitchen. I’m really frustrate that you didn’t keep your promise and now I have to deal with the ants.”
Criticism is more global, focusing on your mate’s personality or character. “Why are you so forgetful? You just don’t really care about me and what’s important to me.”
Here’s how Dr. Gottman distinguishes between the two:
A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but a criticism ups the ante by throwing in blame and general character assassination. Here’s a recipe: To turn any complaint into a criticism, just add my favorite line: “What is wrong with you?”
Criticism is common and doesn’t mean you are headed for divorce court. But is a disease that will fester.
The solution is two-fold.
The first is in your attitude. Realize that your mate doesn’t have to be you or care about what you care about. You married an individual. Don’t criticize who your mate is.
The second involves how you talk about things that upset you. Focus on behavior rather than impugning character. The garbage didn’t get taken out. That’s all. Stay specific. If it’s a habit, it’s ok to address it as a habit, but continue to stay away from criticizing character. “You have forgotten to take the garbage out three out of the last four weeks, each time leaving me frustrated and angry because you didn’t do what you said you were going to do. What do we need to do now?”
This is good advice for all relationships, but especially important with your life partner. You may have some complaints about how your partner behaves (who doesn’t?) but move away from global criticism or your mate’s personality or character.
Criticism is common and doesn’t mean you are headed for divorce court. But is a disease that will fester. Criticism paves the way for the other more deadly horsemen.
Next post, horseman #2: Contempt.
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