Emotionally Intelligent Marriages
By: Lezlee Brinkman, Patricia Gras
What I learned this week: Although I support the institution of marriage, I knew enough about myself, not to get married.
What I am grateful for: I am glad my parents loved each other enough to stay married and care for each other in their old age
This week’s blog features Dr. Donald Cole, licensed Marriage and Family Counselor, who will be featured on the Living Smart episode airing on Houston PBS June 26 at 3 pm and repeated on Friday, July 1 at 10pm. In this blog, we explore the issues of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt in marriage.
According to the Center of Disease Control, in 2010 the divorce rate has decreased from 44 percent to 41 percent for first time marriages, decreasing the overall rate of marriages for young adults between the ages of 25-34 by 10 percent. Studies have shown that an increasing amount of people are electing instead to cohabitate without formally getting married.
Popular culture and the changing views of a new generation may be the reason behind a couple’s reticence to join together in holy matrimony. It may also be that women are electing to wait until they have firmly established their careers before taking the plunge. On the other hand, perhaps it is simply a matter of recognizing that both men and women are unprepared to do the work. For those people who want to learn the techniques of how to have a successful and enduring marriage, there is help.
Dr. Donald Cole is a marriage counselor at the Center for Relationship Wellness in Houston, Texas. He and his wife are committed to helping couples save their marriages by using the Gottman method.
Dr. Gottman has been the nation’s foremost researcher in marriage and parenting for over thirty-five years.
“Back in the mid-‘90s, I began reading Dr. Gottman’s work, and it just resonated with me”, says Dr. Cole.
“What we’ve learned is it’s not so much about being a good communicator as being good at understanding and repairing our miscommunications”, says Dr. Cole.
Dr. Gottman and his wife Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman founded the Gottman Relationship Institute in Seattle, Washington. At their center, the Gottman’s have outlined through their method the biggest pitfalls couples may encounter within their relationship.
“The methods that have grown out of the Gottman method seem to really be effective with the couples with whom I work, and that’s a lot of pleasure for me”, says Dr. Donald Cole.
The Gottman method, as known as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, breaks down four of the most destructive cycles couples commonly find themselves. The first attitude is criticism which is where person may launch an attack of their partner’s character instead of simply complaining about the real reason the person is bothered. The second attitude or cycle is defensiveness. Many times defensiveness is in reaction to the partner’s criticism of the other partner. For example, someone might tell their partner, “You’re always late! What’s wrong with you?” Reflexively, the accused partner might get defensive and fire back, “Well, I might be late sometimes, but you never put gas in the car.” This is a classic defensive move, according to the Gottman method to deflect and to change the subject. The third attitude is stonewalling which is an emotional withdrawal from the conflict. Both men and women can be guilty of this tactic but it is found mostly commonly among men.
“The research does show that in heterosexual couples, men do the stonewalling about 85 percent of the time. I think it does have something to do with the fact that men have a more active alarm system—generalized alarm system—where we’re the ones who tend to react to danger or threat more forcefully,” says Dr. Donald Cole.
Finally the last cycle that people may find themselves is contempt. Contempt is in some ways according the Dr. Cole is “the most toxic of the Four.”
He explains that by the time a couple has reached this point they may be saying things like, “Why did I ever marry this person? I can’t believe I ever got involved with someone like you.” By the time the marriage has reached this level Dr. Cole says, the marriage is in real trouble.
Dr. Cole discusses some solutions from the Gottman method that might help bring couples back from the edge. First, couples could try gentle complaining which is where someone talks about what is upsetting them in terms of “I”. “What I need or what I feel” are good starting points for a conversation. Next is taking responsibility for ones actions instead of trying to shift the blame. Third is self soothing. This is often associated with stonewalling. Many times the person may simply just need a few moments to themselves to catch their breath.
Dr. Cole says, “Outside they may be looking really calm or really stoic like and no feelings, but inside, they’re churning a great deal.”
Finally, creating a culture of fondness and admiration between one another is the key before allowing contempt to get too far. “One way of thinking about this is the happy, successful couples—they seem to observe their partner to catch them doing something right—something that makes them feel good so they can talk about that,” says Dr. Cole.
Check out Dr. Donald Cole’s website at:
Check out Dr. John Gottman outline the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse