A Counter-Intuitive Approach to Solving Problems in Your Marriage

Last Thursday I talked to you about getting in the habit of being negative or in a bad mood and I described how I got in the habit of being angry and annoyed with my husband recently.  Although I thought I would write this post on Friday, I decided to post the recipes for French food with the names of our book giveaway winners.  So I’m back to last week’s train of thought — thanks for sticking with me through the detour!

Today I’m going to share with you a piece of counter-intuitive advice that may help you with your romantic relationships or even, possibly, your other close relationships as well.

A few years ago, I had a friend who was not getting along well with her husband. They were fighting all the time, about everything. They fought about money, the kids, their jobs, the house, the chores, everything. I interrupted and asked her when the last time was they were intimate. She looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “Haven’t you been listening? I hate him. I hate everything about him. I’m so mad I could kill him. Why on earth would I want to be intimate with him? I don’t even want to be in the same room with him.”

I told her I thought she should forget the “issues” for awhile and work on being intimate with her husband. While I’m nowhere near a marriage counselor, my reasoning was that since they had no closeness, no friendship, no reason to even like one another, how did they ever think they could solve their problems? Most solutions require compromise. Why would I want to compromise if I don’t even like you? So I thought if they could regain their closeness, their intimacy, if they could care for one another, maybe it would be easier to find common ground when they eventually tried to re-open their negotiations on the issues. My friend decided to give my advice a try. (It wasn’t because my logic made sense, rather it was because she’d tried everything else and had nothing to lose!)

Guess what? Several months later my friend called. She and her husband had worked out most of their problems and were closer than ever. At first, she practically had to force herself to be physical with this man she had come to despise. But soon they started to develop a closeness. Then a playfulness. Slowly they remembered that they liked – loved – one another. Not everything was a battle. Now they had something to fight for, not just fight about. When they started caring about the other person, they started making compromises and looking for common ground. Bingo!

I’m not saying that will work for everyone, but I think sometimes we get in the bad habit of fighting, battling, disliking one another. And the solution doesn’t always have to be physical intimacy. For example, my mom lives with my husband and me. Both my mom and I have to fight the tendency to work ALL THE TIME, 24/7. All work and no play definitely makes us cranky women! Now although Mom and I rarely fight, sometimes we have to remember what it’s like to have fun together. When we get out of the habit of working all the time and go out to eat or go to a movie, we remember why we love each other so much and we remember that although we work well together, we also have a lot of fun together! It’s sad that we have to “remember” to have fun, but working is the habit (or rut) we fall into all the time.

John Gottman’s pioneering research found that marriages (and I would assume any close interpersonal relationships) are much more likely to succeed when the couple experiences a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions; whereas, when the ratio approaches 1:1, marriages are more likely to end in divorce.  Of course, research has also shown that when the positive to negative ratio is overly inflated, say 13:1, divorce is also more likely because real issues and problems are not being addressed.  This is the same principle as making deposits into the love tank talked about in Gary Chapman’s book, The Heart of the Five Love Languages.  If we want to withdraw from our love bank (for example, by offering criticism), we need to deposit into the love tank (compliments, enjoyable activities) or we will have an “overdraft” in the love tank.  Further, in a 1:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions, we have a “zero” balance — marriage isn’t bad, but it’s not good either.  That’s why it makes sense to deposit five positive experiences for every one negative — your marriage will still be a positive in yours and your spouse’s lives.

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” So when you’re faced with a relational problem, especially if you’ve fallen into a bad habit in that relationship, and you’ve tried all the “logical” solutions, try an approach that seems counter-intuitive and see what the result might be. You never know what will work and sometimes you have nothing left to lose by trying.

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