References Bridging the Couple Chasm by John Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD
Nothing prepares you to be married except marriage. Unfortunately, a lot of people enter marriage with the misconception that their unhealthy relationship approaches are healthy ones. Below we look at three marital strategies many people think will improve their relationships, but have been proven by marital research to be harmful.
1. Quid Pro Quo (26)
Many people used to believe, and some still do, that as long as you and your mate try to keep everything “even,” your marriage will succeed. A system of exchange is actually terrible for your relationship. Spouses who keep a mental tally of how many nice things they have done for each other and base their behavior on who owes who what are destined for divorce. Eventually, one of the spouses becomes an “emotional accountant.” They fixate on whether their partner has reciprocated all of the favors they have done. The marriage is in big trouble when this person begins to feel taken advantage of. Gottman cites a 1977 study that found “a quid-pro-quo way of thinking was characteristic of both ailing friendships and ailing relationships.”
A healthier way to deal with this: Do not look at contributions to your relationship as doing your mate a “favor.” A favor implies you go out of your way to do something for someone because you expect them to do the same in the future. Marriage calls for a servant’s heart, not a ledger.
During Christ’s final hours before his arrest, he washed his disciples’ feet. The Son of God performing such a menial chore shows how serious God is about believers setting aside their pride and serving others. After he was done, Jesus told them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)
It would have been impossible for the disciples to pay Jesus back for the sacrificial love he, God incarnate, lavished on them. This is how you are to love your spouse– with a servant’s heart that expects nothing in return. Your relationship will not survive if you both expect effort to always be 50-50. Sometimes you will be doing the lion’s share, and sometimes your spouse will. People have bad days or go through spiritual valleys. It’s up to spouses to help their beloved back up the mountain.
2. Infidelity is the Leading Cause of Divorce (26)
Unless by “most” you mean less that 20 percent, this is false. A study by the California Divorce Mediation Project found 80 percent of divorces are caused by spouses drifting apart and becoming emotionally detached. “This represents a failure of the friendship and intimacy in the relationship.” (26) Incidentally, this also what causes most affairs. Infidelity is rarely about sex. Most people stray because they find a source of companionship and affection they think their marriage lacks.
A healthier way to deal with this: Marriages fail when couples start letting them fall down their to-do lists. Other important things (children, jobs) start taking precedence because couples tell themselves their marriage can wait. Preserving your commitment to your spouse cannot wait. Just as you make time during the week for business meetings and picking up your kids from practice, schedule time with your spouse. It can be something as simple as coffee after dinner to talk about your days, or as big as a weekend away at a Bed & Breakfast.
The New Testament reiterates the importance of fellowship. We see Jesus spending time with his disciples (Passover, the wedding at Cana). And Paul exhorting Christians to support one another, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25 NIV) Churches have all kinds of activities during the week to strengthen bonds between believers. Why should your marriage be any different?
3. Trying to Solve Every Problem in Your Marriage (28)
It is impossible to solve all your marriage problems. While you and your spouse may agree on a lot of issues, ultimately you are separate individuals with different opinions, interests, and goals. One of you may want to spend that Christmas bonus on a nice vacation, whereas the other would rather save it. It is unrealistic to expect two different people to agree about everything. Gottman’s decades of marital research indicate that even the healthiest marriages have problems the couple will never resolve.
A healthier way to deal with this: Accept that you will not be able to solve every problem in your marriage. Gottman says a lot of these disagreements are tied to issues that represent important goals and desires for each partner. That is why they can cause such bitter disagreements, and why they persist. People want their spouse to support their goals, and they resent it when they do not.
If you have been married long enough, you are probably familiar with you and your spouse’s most common perpetual areas of discord. For instance, one of you may be a saver and the other may be a spender. The next time a big money issue comes up (what to do with that bonus, how to organize next year’s budget) talk about why your perspectives are important to you. For example, one of you may have watched your parents count every penny, and now you enjoy spending money because you never got to growing up.
The better you understand your spouse, the better you will understand why they disagree with you. Be compassionate about where they are coming from. Healthy couples deal with perpetual issues with humor, affection, and by showing their partner they accept them. (53) Toward the end of his epistle to the church at Rome, Paul spoke to their issues with differing beliefs in the church. His lesson was that each person would be accountable to their conscience, and it was not up other believers to judge them for it. Take the same approach in your marriage. Accept that you and your spouse will not agree on everything. Instead, try to find compromises that will accommodate both views and benefit your marriage.
Christian Counseling for Marriage Problems
If you and your spouse struggle with any of the issues covered in this article, or would just like some help dealing with weaknesses in your marriage, consider making an appointment with a professional Christian marriage counselor. No one’s relationship is perfect. A professional Christian marriage counselor can offer insight to strengthen your relationship in light of God’s design for marriage.
Solve-marriage-problems Flickr user stevendepolo
Causes-of-divorce Flickr user saint-gobain abrasives, sweden