One common denominator of couples headed for divorce is a lack of curiosity about each other’s inner lives, says Gottman. So try to build a map of your partner’s world- likes and dislikes, fears and dreams, quirks and peeves. By learning to see your spouse in all his fullness, completely autonomous from you, you slowly familiarize yourself with an equally valid reality that is not your own. You find something in his story that you can understand, even if you strongly disagree with it.
Joseph Prunty, of Philadelphia, attributes his marital success to the curiosity he and his wife share about what makes each other tick. “It gives us an entry point to each other’s motivations- intellectual, emotional, and to some degree spiritual,” he says. “I need that for camaraderie’s sake: the shared experiences, the pursuit of mutual goals, the feeling of teamwork.”
To have a true partnership, both parties must be open to accepting influence from the other, explains Gottman, and women tend to do this more naturally than men. Yes, it’s the “C” word ‘compromise’ and for such a mild word, the experience can be shockingly torturous, as if ceding ground equals personal invalidation. “Choosing what’s good for the relationship over one’s own thoughts and feelings, doing what works instead of what you want, is the way to openness, growth, and positivity,” says Robyn Walser, PhD, coauthor of The Mindful Couple (New Harbinger, 2009). For Prunty, that means learning to live with the dishes his spouse leaves in the sink, while for Ian Mathews, it means listening to Monica process more than he feels the situation warrants.
When all else fails, humor can work miracles. So can being the first to say, “I’m sorry”, even if you feel your partner had been in the wrong. But as for the special sauce that makes a marriage juicy, vital, and satisfying, it seems praise and appreciation work any day. Counting the ways that you love someone isn’t just for maudlin Victorian poets; numbers and romance, it turns out, make passionate bedfellows.
Elizabeth Marglin would like to thank her husband for always cleaning the kitty litter.
The Numbers Game
96% The chance that, once an argument begins harshly, it will stay that way or just get worse.
50% The frequency with which people in unhappy relationships miss their partner’s positive attempts at connection.
80% How often the woman brings up issues in the relationship as opposed to the man.
69% Amount of fights that bring up old, unresolved issues.
25 The number of separate studies that confirm a drop, often quite steep, in marital satisfaction after the transition to parenthood.
4 Number of years children of divorced parents have their life expectancy shortened.
40% How much more money married men make compared to single guys.
62% The number of people who rank sharing household chores third in importance for what makes a marriage successful—just below good sex and faithfulness.
78% The number of unhappy marriages repaired within five years.
Sources: University of Washington; Gottman Institute; Stephanie Coontz; Child Development; The Case for Marriage by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher; Pew Research Institute; Psychology Today