Did you know that some of the couples who seem angriest with each other may have a satisfying marriage? At times you might not feel like that when you are around them. But they may not tell you their secret. First, in spite of their angry exchanges they still have many more affirming and positive interactions. Secondly, they have developed a ritual for healing the aftermath from their disputes.
Research by John Gottman in his book Seven Principles of a Successful Marriage clearly indicates that fighting is not a sign that indicates whether a relationship will end in divorce or not. In fact couples that do not engage in conflict often find themselves distancing or bored. Such non-interaction may be one of several causes for one partner to have an affair
But the hidden secret that could save your marriage focuses not on the amount of conflict but rather on the number of interactions that offset negative conflict. Partners who have learned to set aside their battles and to play as well can often ride through some of their disagreements. Such fun interactions build a bond that supersedes the negative exchanges
Problems arise when a partner jumps from initial upset to globalizing. Deep-set marital problems emerge when either partner begins to assume that this donnybrook symbolizes the state of the marriage or that this reveals the true character of the partner. Such globalizing then leads to the belief that this is the way that the marriage will always be. Subsequently couples begin to live in a non-interactive zone and retreat to “islands of invulnerability.”
Couples who have learned how to deal with angry exchanges, and know how to extricate themselves from a battle, can recover a positive sense of the relationship. When each partner registers these good moments and holds on to them, fighting itself makes less of an impact on the over all sense of the marriage. Such passionate interchanges can lead to finding what each partner feels intensely about. When dealt with in a mop-up exercise, they do less damage.
Couples need to collect the snapshots of “good time memories” and to carry them around in the wallets of their minds or to hang them symbolically on the refrigerator. These images become the positive symbols of the marriage, rather than a picture of all the conflicts that weigh can overshadow any marriage at times.
Gottman has suggested that as much as 70% of conflicts may never get resolved. They will continue to surface throughout the marriage. Knowing this alone has helped couples not to be so discouraged.
Learning to make up and decide what each will do differently creates a sense of being able to bump heads and still hold one’s own. The exercise of reviewing the fight for ways to change the script can lessen the futility and help you to see your partner as strong but open to your concerns.