Newlyweds 5 Biggest Pitfalls (cont.)
Leibin tells WebMD that rather than compromise and share, some couples continue to lead separate lives after marriage. "They end up pulling apart. Couples should be friends and learn to work together. I believe in a Saturday night date ritual, and maybe she makes the plans one week and he the next. It's a time to share their lives and try to understand each other's worlds."
She says love starts a relationship, and communication makes it grow into a good working relationship in which partners respect one another's differences. She sees many couples who don't make an effort to learn about each other. "One newly married couple divorced over crumbs in the sink. He'd go off on her if there were crumbs, and she couldn't stand it."
Talking About Hard Issues Will Take the Bloom off Romance
She doesn't tell him that once they have children she wants him to quit working. He doesn't tell her his company might relocate him to Singapore.
Leibin tells WebMD that in recent years she's seen an increase in the number of couples in trouble as early as the eighth month of marriage. "Often they'll say, 'I wish I'd known such-and-such.' People present their best selves before marriage, and they overlook serious issues, like alcohol abuse, that can destroy a marriage."
Far from ruining romance, talking openly and honestly fosters acceptance and deeper understanding which is essential if partners are to feel safe with one another. "When you feel safe with someone you love, you won't find anybody prettier, richer, or more desirable," she says.
We Should Avoid Conflict at All Costs
He leaves and goes for a drive when she confronts him about viewing computer porn. She learns to stifle her feelings about computer porn and keep quiet.
Couples who claim "we never fight" are missing an opportunity to build their relationship. "It's how couples handle the conflict that matters," says Freeman. "Do you de-escalate situations? Can you repair the relationship? Do you validate your partner after a big fight? When people give up on each other, it's usually because they've stopped trying to resolve conflicts."
The research of John Gottman, PhD, has had a profound impact on the field of marriage counseling. Freeman says Gottman can tell with 95% accuracy which couples will stay together. "He puts them in a room and videotapes them discussing their relationships. Then he observes their verbal and nonverbal behaviors, and counts positive behaviors, such as nodding or placing a hand on a shoulder, and negative behaviors, such as whining or stern criticism. With successful couples, the ratio is five positive behaviors to one negative. What makes them successful is the ability to reduce the negative feelings."
"Even good marriages will have criticism and defensiveness, but there's danger when people stonewall or feel contempt. If you hold someone in contempt, you don't think the problem can be resolved. Contempt replaces hope."
Freeman says some important lessons emerging from the research are different for men and women. "Wives who stand toe-to-toe with their husbands and don't give in do well. But when wives raise their tolerance levels, the marriage is doomed, because the husband makes a power play. Husbands who can calm themselves down and lower their anger are more likely to have happy marriages."
Originally published May 24, 2004.
SOURCES: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, March 2003. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, John Gottman.WebMD Medical Reference with the Gottman Institute: "Relationship 101." Mark Freeman, PhD, director, personal counseling and instructor, Rollins College, Winter Park, Fla. Addie Leibin, MS, LMHC, mental health counselor in private practice, Winter Park, Fla.
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