Husbands, Stop Rehearsing Distress-Maintaining Attributions

One of the ways that John Gottman says people talk themselves out of their marriages is “rehearsing distress-maintaining attributions” in between arguments. That is, instead of making up stories about how their troubles are passing and circumstantial, they make up stories about how their troubles have to do with permanent flaws in their partner’s character. Over time, this version of the story solidifies and they reinterpret the entire history of the relationship using that filter.

This is another of Gottman’s gendered findings; it is mostly a problem because the men (in heterosexual marriages, at least) do it. It’s a problem when women do it, too, they just don’t tend to as much.

The alternative to rehearsing distress-maintaining attributions is rehearsing relationship-enhancing attributions, and this is exactly what Gottman found that the people in marriages that ended up happy and stable did. It’s probably a good idea, then, to practice rehearsing relationship-enhancing attributions if you can. Try thinking about the strengths of your relationship, good times, things you are proud of, ways that current conflict is passing and circumstantial. If that is difficult to do, think instead about couples counseling.  If you want to keep your relationship, you probably need help.

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, March 2, 2011.]

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The Importance of Men Accepting Influence in a Heterosexual Marriage

John Gottman’s research show evidence that one of the most important things in making a heterosexual relationship is that the male “accept influence” from the female. That is, the male listens to and is influenced by the ideas and opinions of the female. He shares power with her. If he does not do this, they will end up divorced 80% of the time.

One of the reasons Gottman is such a famous couples researcher is that he finds effects that strong. Your average couples researcher would love to find something that predicted anything about a couple’s future with 30% accuracy, but Gottman’s work is rife with 80% and up findings. 80% is huge. At 80%, you’ve left the realm of “more likely” behind and have solidly entered “probably.” If you are a man who has trouble conceding a point to your wife, you should take note. You will probably be much better off if you spend your energy scouring your conversations for ways to agree with your  wife than ways to disagree. If that is difficult, get some help with it.

And it does not go the other way. Gottman found that while wives tend to be good at accepting influence, whether they are or not did not correlate with anything he measured.

Which, of course, brings up the question of same-sex relationships. How does accepting influence influence things there? The answer, as is usually the case in couples research, is that we have no idea, which hip researchers are often apologizing for but rarely doing anything about. My advice is to notice and accept influence regardless of your gender or sexual orientation–better to lose arguments than  your relationship.

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, February 18, 2011.]