Conflicts — 26 December 2011
How to create consistent harmony throughout your marriage

Committed partners use various styles of interactions. Some couples fight, some debate and argue, others are cordial and distant and there are those who maintain a loving, harmonious attitude throughout years of marriage. How do these pairs choose their style of communication and can they volitionally change it?

Observing couples argue, fight, shame each other and demand that their own views be recognized as the “right ones” is very disturbing. Some pairs report having learned these ways in combative households with parents who stayed together and accepted aggressive verbal exchanges as the norm of marital interaction.

John Gottman’s research findings state, “Some marital interaction patterns, such as disagreement and anger exchanges, which have usually been considered harmful to a marriage, may not be harmful in the long run. However, three interaction patterns were identified as dysfunctional in terms of longitudinal deterioration: defensiveness (which includes whining), stubbornness, and withdrawal from interaction.”

These three responses that were found to risk the continuity of the marriage entailed one common element, the self-preoccupation that removes one partner from engaging with the other.

In defensiveness, the justifying mate seeks to exonerate himself/herself from the unfavorable view of the partner by focusing on self- defense, not on mutual discourse. Stubbornness also asserts one’s non-negotiable position which blocks open discussions and compromise. The third damaging behavior of withdrawal, clearly physically and emotionally removes one mate from engaging with the other.

These research findings support my clinical observations. I term it “the continuum of the primary focus.”  Is one’s primary focus on the mate’s wellbeing and happiness or on his/her own needs? Clearly, every individual should be aware of both his/her own wishes, preferences and desires and concurrently be considerate of his partner’s as well.

The degree to which you focus on considering your partner first and foremost determines how pleasing you are to your mate and how likely your reactions are to foster a complimentary consideration from your beloved.

When we are bent, first and foremost, on safeguarding our own personal rights, we cease to be a member of a team and our capacity to act lovingly is compromised. Always complying with your mate’s wishes and abandoning your own renders you a victim of your own creation. The healthy formula requires using curiosity in respectfully exploring and honoring your partner’s needs and then stating your own as you begin the process of negotiation and compromise.

Can you create a non-acrimonious, non-fighting, stable and happy relationship for many years? You bet! Valuing your spouse’s wishes begets emotional ease and reciprocity.

To create a harmonious and happy relationship:

  • Reject the notion that every couple fights and that it is an inevitable part of marriage.
  • Understand that if you do argue – it may not necessarily cause you to part but will emotionally distance you from each other.
  • Decide to live harmoniously by being considerate. Feeling valued will prompt both of you to greater reciprocal kindness.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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