Imagine that you purchase your dream car at age 28 but are told that you have to drive it for 50 years. Period. No buts. Driving any other car in this lifetime is non-negotiable. This is your dream car and the thought of it is so intoxicating you don’t think about the distant future.
You decide it would be really wise to invest in some preventative maintenance. “Don’t take it for granted!” your parents warn you. After all, 50 years is a long, long time. You’d probably have a file where you kept a record of your caretaking and you would create reminders so that nothing fell through the cracks. The thought of wear-and-tear would be on your mind every time you drove it. There would be rules! No riding the brakes! Don’t gun the engine. Avoid potholes! No abuse of any kind.
You would be fanatical about oil changes. You would panic if it made a strange noise. It would be parked in a garage. Avoiding wear and tear would be your new focus in life because this car has to last.
Do you see where I’m going with this? We swear in front of God and Family ‘til death do us part, let me repeat that for emphasis, ‘til DEATH do us part while knowing full well that marital break-downs are not only a real possibility but very common. A coin’s toss chance of success. Yet within the first year we begin engaging in the corrosive behaviors that lead to wear and tear on the relationship.
According to researcher Dr. John Gottman, author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, there are a few high risk behaviors that have been shown in marriage research to be especially corrosive and predictors of divorce. Consider these to be the worst form of wear and tear you can subject your relationship to.
- Failure to accept influence (a complaint, opinion or suggestion) from your wife sounds like this. Wife, “Can you slow down and be more careful? You’re making me nervous!” Husband, “I know what I’m doing. I got this.” The message that your wife gets is that you don’t value her feelings or ideas. This behavior is much more corrosive than you realize and is frequently a kneejerk reaction by men.
- Superiority over your spouse. This is more an attitude than spoken. It is the belief that you are superior to your spouse in maturity, intellect, rationality, decision making, etc. This belief guarantees resistance in your wife.
- Criticism sounds like this, “Why are you eating that when your supposed to be trying to lose weight? You have zero self-control.” Criticism attacks a person’s character as opposed to issuing a legitimate complaint about a particular behavior.
- Stonewalling looks like this. A stone wall. Stony silence. Poker face. Silent treatment. Appearance of not caring.
- Contempt sounds like this, “You don’t give a shit about anybody but yourself! You are absolutely worthless.” Contempt is criticism’s sadistic cousin. The intent is to inflict pain. This is the most corrosive of them all.
- Defensiveness sounds like this. Wife, “I need you to help more with the kids tonight.” Husband, “I help with them every night! Of course, I’ll never be as perfect as you!”
- Harsh Opening Line when communicating complaints. It sounds like this, “Why in the hell did you park in the middle of the driveway? What’s wrong with you?” Think twice before you issue a complaint. Soften your tone and your words.
Wear and tear should be carefully avoided as much as possible. But what would a good preventative maintenance schedule look like?
Daily. Treat your wife like a great friend. Hang out. Be attentive. Make her laugh. Engage in light-hearted teasing. Share funny stories. Be respectful. Be helpful. Crack each other up.
Weekly. Protect Date Night. Do not ever cancel this standing appointment and if you must, reschedule for the same week. Make this alone time together a top priority. No kids. No double dating. You enjoyed one another enough to propose, go out and remind yourself of why you chose her.
Have sex. I know I don’t have to tell you that. If she is less than willing, find out why. Be curious, understanding and sincere. Don’t sound angry or offer solutions; ask her for suggestions. Then do what she says. When Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.
Monthly. Have a State of the Union meeting over brunch and Bloody Marys. Talk specifically about the health of your relationship. Are you happy? Feeling neglected? Any lingering resentments? Rate yourselves on how you are doing on the above 6 deadly behaviors.
Double-dates. Have some fun with another couple you both enjoy. Seeing your wife relaxed and enjoying herself will remind you of how likeable she really is.
Socialize as a family. If you have kids, engage with other families. Couples who have strong bonds to a community are shown to have higher marital satisfaction.
If you’ve ever said, “Marriage doesn’t come with a manual”. Wrong! I require all couples I see to read, Developing Habits for Relationship Success by Dr. Brent Atkinson. You can find it at www.thecouplesclinic.com.