Communication as a Predictor of Marital Success
- Communication styles
- Communication and conflict
- How are your repairing skills?
- The Four Horsemen
- Ways couples can break their conflict patterns
What is the key to marital happiness? If we all knew the answer to that – and mastered it so we each had our own happy marriage – there might be a lot less divorce.
As it is, the data about marriage and divorce is somewhat grim. Nearly half of all marriages don’t survive the long haul. Why not? Is there something we can do to build and safeguard a successful marriage?
As it turns out, our communication styles may have something to do with it. While poor communication can be a predictor of divorce, strong communication can be a predictor of marital success.
Let’s take a deeper look at communication styles.
Everyone has their own communication style – their way of expressing themselves and interacting with others. While much of your communication style depends on your inherent temperament and personality, life experience also weighs in. Over the years, your experiences "teach” you what works and what doesn’t.
For example, if you were called selfish by a teacher for being assertive and forthright, you might have “learned” not to be that way. If you were praised by a parent for being “good” and not rocking the boat, you might have learned that passivity was a behavior to strive for.
Indeed, a person's communication style can be the byproduct of many factors.
Communication and conflict
Life is full of conflict, and by extension, so is marriage. Interestingly, studies suggest that long-term marital satisfaction and success directly correlate with how a married couple deals with conflict. If we don’t resolve conflict in positive ways, the relationship is put at risk.
How are your repairing skills?
According to Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute, one of the single biggest indicators of long-term marital harmony is a couple’s repairing skills, or how they resolve conflict in their marriage.
While repairing skills rely on a couple’s ability to communicate effectively during conflict, their ability to truly listen, have empathy, and take a loving and proactive approach also matters.
From the 1970s through the conclusion of his research in the 1990s, Gottman studied thousands of couples and tracked how they dealt with marital conflict. During that time, he identified four behaviors he saw partners engage in that predicted divorce with 93.6% accuracy. He coined these behaviors the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
For each horseman, Gottman identified the underlying feelings of the person exhibiting the behavior as well as what he called the “antidote,” or how each could be resolved.
The Four Horsemen
Criticism occurs when one partner verbally complains about the other, making them feel small and rejected. Where there is complaining or criticizing, there is usually an unmet need. The antidote is to identify that need and use “I feel” statements instead of “you are” or “you did” statements to express those needs.
Defensiveness is typically a response to criticism. The partner who has been criticized reacts by making excuses and taking the victim role. Sometimes, they reverse the blame. The antidote is looking at the other person’s perspective, validating their feelings, taking responsibility, and apologizing.
Contempt occurs when one partner disrespects the other and makes them feel worthless. The antidote is for the contemptuous partner to begin to appreciate their spouse’s good qualities, find gratitude for the positives in the relationship, and start speaking to the other with love and admiration.
When one partner feels attacked, they may feel emotionally overwhelmed and respond by closing down and refusing to interact to avoid conflict. The antidote is to take a break and find something “self-soothing” or calming and then revisit the issue when they have calmed down.
Ways couples can break their conflict patterns
The conflict patterns mentioned above can become habitual and ingrained in a couple’s communication style. Most couples don’t even recognize these patterns in their communication.
In his studies, Gottman identified specific ways couples could better communicate with each other to break their conflict patterns. These include:
- Responding to each other with genuine interest
- Being attentive to each other and responding to simple requests
- Being kind to each other through appreciation, compliments, and affirmation
- Showing each other affection
- Turning toward each other instead of away from each other during conflict
- Agreeing to deal with each other fairly and respectfully during a conflict
- Giving each other space when they need it
- Willingness to talk about physical intimacy and sexual compatibility issues
- Respect for each other’s boundaries
- Committing to work together before a crisis occurs
- Engaging in more meaningful activities together
Bottom line: Couples can repair their entrenched patterns of conflict by mindfully being kind, interested in, respectful, and appreciative of each other.
It sounds simple, yet patterns of behavior are difficult to break since so much of our communication style has been developed throughout our lives. It becomes our default.
During the first stages of marriage, most of us are floating on a combination of romance and lust. As time goes by, however, the cracks start to show, and we begin to hone in on each other’s imperfections. During times of real conflict, all of our communication tactics, good or bad, come out in full force.
The strongest marriages aren’t between perfect individuals. Often, they are between individuals who have learned to repair their conflicts. The Gottman Method has been used successfully by marriage therapists for several decades.
At Hello Divorce, we’re here to help you live your best life before, during, and after divorce. We offer services, support, and guidance through every phase of your process so you can go forward better equipped to deal with whatever life hands you.