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How Do YOU Respond to Your Husband?

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You'd be surprised -- even rolling your eyes at your man one too many times could set you on the path to divorce.

woman mad at husbands flowers

Dr. Wendy Walsh: I like to say that relationships are more often about the elephant in the living room than the tiger in the bedroom. That elephant can be ignored all day long, but he's still in the living room. And his name is emotional intimacy. And couples do unknowingly talk about the elephant all day long in metaphors, gestures, touch, and facial expressions -- roundabout ways of asking for love.

Drs. John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, marriage researchers and therapists, would probably agree with me. Their groundbreaking work on couples' communication styles and a partner's bids for connection shows that long-term marital happiness can be connected to the husband's ability to respond to his wife's bids for closeness. In recording data from an "apartment" laboratory, psychologist John Gottman discovered that mundane conversations contain many bids for emotional connection -- sometimes as many as 100 bids in ten minutes. "These bids can be a question, a look, an affectionate touch on the arm or any single expression that says, "I want to feel connected to you," Gottman says. "A response to a bid can be a turn toward, away or against someone's request for emotional connection."

For example, consider a man who comes home from work; his wife says, "How was your day?" There are many ways to pose the question that run the gamut from sarcastic -- "How was YOUR day" (implying that hers was worse) -- to a sweet, earnest inquiry to know more about a lover. And there are many ways to respond: from a curt "Fine," to a "Great, honey! How was yours?" Add to that simple exchange, body language, facial expression, and physical touch, and you can see that couples, even when they are saying nothing, are often saying a lot.

And an ability to turn toward or away from a request can even predict divorce. Research from Gottman's apartment lab showed that husbands who eventually were divorced ignored the bids from their wives 82 percent of the time, compared to 19 percent for men in stable marriages. Women who later divorced ignored their husband's bids 50 percent of the time, while those who remained married only disregarded 14 percent of their husband's bids.

In the lab and in the therapy room, Dr. Gottman has discovered that many people are emotionally aware that they lack emotional literacy in being able to read the emotional message in facial expressions or voice tone. And this handicap leads the other partner to feel rejected. The good news is that Gottman believes these skills can be learned, and even couples on the brink can find ways back into love.

The Gottman Institute™ applies leading-edge research on marriage in a practical, down-to-earth therapy and trains therapists committed to helping couples.


next: Does 'Good Job' Really Mean 'Do What I Say?'
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