Nicholas Kristof writes in the December 8, 2019 edition of the New York Times about “The Four Secrets of Success” that he shares with young people who are seeking his advice. I must admit that one of his secrets stood out for me above all the rest:
“The most important decision you will make is not the university you attend, nor your major, not even your first job. It’s who you marry or settle down with.”
Kristof goes on to say, “The right partner provides crucial emotional support, is likely to parent your children and comforts you when life inevitably goes wrong. A key to a successful career is a great partner. Learning to manage a relationship may take practice, so get started and cuddle!”
So, how do couples learn to manage a marriage relationship? I immediately thought of the Gottman Institute and all the research that John Gottman has done over four decades, enabling him and his colleagues to teach thousands of couples how to maintain and strengthen their relationships. Five of his tips have stayed with me for a long time:
1. The most successful couples are kind to each other. They avoid saying every critical thought that pops into their heads when discussing difficult subjects. They state their concerns respectfully, without blaming their partner. This doesn’t mean they don’t express negative feelings when they may have them, such as anger or disappointment, but they can take responsibility for their feelings, rather than blame their partner for them.
2. Starting to talk about a problem gently enables couples to calmly engage in a difficult conversation. A partner who makes a critical or condescending remark toward the other partner can easily spark an argument.
3. When a woman and a man are in a marriage or committed relationship, it is important that the man be willing to be influenced by his female partner. Research reveals that women are typically accustomed to accepting influence from men. A lasting partnership only occurs when a man can reciprocate.
4. Successful couples have learned how to start repairing a situation before an argument gets completely out of hand. When spouses signal they appreciate each other and respect each other’s feelings, they open the door for a resolution to take place.
5. When couples continually emphasize positives while discussing problems, they are actually making sure that the deposits in their respective banks of goodwill and trust are greater than the withdrawals that diminish their accounts. By honoring agreements on new, constructive ways to communicate with each other, couples are steadily building trust in their relationship.
We write in our book, Conflict―The Unexpected Gift, that in arriving at agreements with each other, couples need to include solutions to problems that will benefit both of them. For an agreement to be balanced, it is important for each person to be willing to be open to, and consider, the other person’s ideas. In this way, they are showing commitment to the principle that the relationship is more important than being right.