More From Dr. Gottman – Defensiveness

We’ve been looking at the Four Horsemen from The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D. Today we’ll take a look at the third of the four negative relational interactions, defensiveness.

We can all think of times when we have responded to our spouse in a defensive way. We point out why something did or didn’t happen that way. We’re saying,

“Hey, it’s not my fault because…”

We go on to explain why we aren’t to blame. We deflect a perceived attack by shifting the blame to someone or something else.

“Yes, I said that, but it’s because you did this and caused me to say that!”

Defensiveness deflects the attack and changes the focus to someone or something else.

Dr. Gottman says that this rarely has the desired effect. The attacking spouse usually doesn’t back down, tending to ignore the excuses and continue the attack. The defensive spouse does not apologize and is trying to shift the focus off themselves. The battleground is set with repeated attack and defend, attack and defend cycles.

Are you thinking this sound a lot like your arguments? You bring up something to your spouse and immediately they’re defensive. They never admit to doing anything wrong, but instead come up with every excuse in the book to justify themselves.

If you have a habit of being in this kind of a cycle, try using the “take a break” approach. When you feel attacked, ask your spouse to tell you what they think you did wrong. Listen and repeat back what you heard. Then ask, “Is that accurate?” Listen only to clarify their perspective.  Ask, “Is there more?” When you both agree that you understand ask, “Could I have time to think and we can talk about it later today? I need time to reflect on what you are saying.”

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Whenever things escalate into a tense hostile exchange, it is usually best to step away so that we can calm ourselves down. Remember that your relationship and closeness is more important than winning a particular argument. Make it your focus to have your relationship win.

Hopefully, your spouse will respond by giving you the time you need and not just continue the attack. Then use that time to truly self-evaluate. Be honest with yourself and take responsibility for your own wrong-doing in the matter.

If you recognize yourself as the spouse who usually is the attacker, I hope you will be convicted that attacking is not a loving way to approach your spouse. When you are in an argument, try asking questions that seek to understand why your spouse responded a particular way.  You may hear new data points that change your perspective.

Seek to understand, not attack. It may be true that they did something wrong, but be quick to forgive and give them space to come to that conviction on their own, not because you railroaded them in to conviction.

Stop attacking and start loving.

Navigating a Life Changing Event

Recently, and fairly suddenly, Alan and I chose to embrace some changes in our life that are having a big impact on us. Alan was laid off his job late last year and was pursuing another job. If that wasn’t enough our church’s leadership team fell apart and urgently needed help to fill in the blanks. Never ever did we contemplate Alan volunteering for the board of directors of a large church, but that’s what he did after we prayed, sought counsel, and agreed together that the Lord was leading him there.

Photo by Andy Stafiniak

Photo by Andy Stafiniak

Within a week he was attending several meetings a week. Evenings, mornings, long meetings, emergency meetings. Lots of phone calls, email and text communications. It was a very different schedule, sort of like when we prepared for our daughter’s wedding. Those last few months were non-stop and we never felt caught up.

We have always been extremely protective of our time alone for dates and intimacy and it took a few weeks to notice that this new schedule was taking a toll. We also felt the effect on our exercise goals that fell to a lower priority. We were tending to eat fast food on the fly. The long hours, less exercise, and poor food choices meant less energy for intimate time and getting everyday chores done.

Though this has been a big change for us, I know that some couples live in this state of busyness constantly and it doesn’t ease up for them. So temporary or constant, how can we navigate these times and keep our marriages fresh and passionate?

There are the obvious things:

  • Is there anything you can let go of?
  • Decide together if you should add something new.
  • Intentionally shut the phones off for time to connect.
  • Stop things that just waste time- TV, web surfing, gaming.

And schedule intimate time if you have to but be open to unconventional or spontaneous times. When a meeting cancels, don’t waste the opportunity! On the other hand, let go and be content if your time together gets postponed once in a while.

Most important are your attitudes. It’s easy to blame and resent your spouse when they change the plans. But that attitude will only hurt you both if you hold on to it. Don’t ever doubt your spouse’s commitment and love. Making assumptions about their intentions never helps. When your feelings get hurt or your hopes dashed, talk about how you feel

Photo by John Nyberg

Photo by John Nyberg

and work together to get the time you need.

And finally, don’t forget to plan for and go on that get-away time where you can relax and enjoy each other without any interruptions!

More From Dr. Gottman- Contempt

We’ve been looking at the Four Horsemen from The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D. Today we’ll take a look at the second of the four negative relational interactions, contempt.

Dr. Gottman calls this particular negative interaction the “worst of the four horsemen.” It is characterized by name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mocking, and hostile humor. It can be described as a style of communicating that is sarcastic, cynical, and often conveys disgust. It can have deadly consequences to relationships.

Photo by vladimirfloyd

Photo by vladimirfloyd

Contempt can usually be seen in comments dripping with sarcasm such as, “You’re so lazy. You’re just like your mother. You expect everyone to do things for you.” Or the wife who says “You don’t have enough to pay the bills because you don’t have a job that pays enough. You’re too stupid to get a good job”. Hateful sarcasm like this is intended to deliberately hurt and demean the listener. It’s a direct attack on the person.

In some cases, the attacker sees the argument as a battle to win. The better they attack their spouse, the better they feel about themselves because they are winning. They win by belittling their spouse.

Contempt is a product of long periods of having issues and negative thoughts that are left unresolved. The issues tend to build up like a pressure cooker. This neglect of solving the issues breaks out in harsh attacks directed at the spouse. There are cutting, critical, caustic, demeaning words intended to hurt the other person. They are by nature, a show of deep disrespect.

If you resort to contempt in arguments with your spouse, you need to step back and take a serious look at your relationship. A relationship that is marked by interactions that show contempt is on a course designed for failure.

  • Are you harboring anger towards your spouse?
  • Are there issues that are making you so mad that you have lost respect for your spouse?

You have probably tried to deal with these issues but have lost hope that they can ever be resolved, so you have given up. You may want a better relationship, but you feel that it’s useless because they’ll never change.

Please seek help if you find yourself in a relationship marked by contempt. Resolve in your heart that you want a restored relationship marked by love and understanding. Ask your spouse to go with you to seek counseling. Find someone to help you walk through your issues. Look for a godly couple or counselor who can guide you through the issues that are destroying your marriage.

Humble yourself and pray for God’s grace as you seek to heal your marriage.

More From Dr. Gottman- Criticism

In several of our previous posts we got some interesting insights from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D. In the next four blogs we’ll look further in to what he refers to as The Four Horsemen – characteristic negative interactions between spouses.

Dr. Gottman acknowledges that all relationships have disagreements that can escalate into harsh and bitter exchanges. In his studies of couples over a twenty-five-year period, he found that there are four distinct negative interactions that are lethal to a relationship. In order, they are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. We’ll look at each of these Four Horseman separately.

But before we dig in, we must understand that we can all be overcomers. We can all choose to take the path of personal growth and reject our negative tendencies. We can choose to forgive even when we have been hurt repeatedly. We can choose to love, even when we have been hated. Jesus said on the cross,

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Luke 23:34

We can choose words of life and reject a carnal tendency that speaks words of destruction. By God’s grace we can all find the way to overcome and respond in love.

Now let’s take a look at Horseman number one, criticism.

Dr. Gottman makes a distinction between making a complaint and criticizing. A complaint focuses on a specific action like the trash not being taken out. “Why didn’t you take out the trash?” A complaint looks at the problem and asks for an explanation. More like data gathering without judgement.

Photo by Zdeslav Schreiber

Photo by Zdeslav Schreiber

On the other hand, criticism looks at the specific action but adds a character assault tothe complaint. “You didn’t take out the trash again like you said you would. What’s the matter with you? You always forget and have some lame excuse”.

Criticism attacks the character. It judges, then blames and demeans. Criticism can be extremely hurtful because it attacks the person. Yes, the trash wasn’t taken out on time and the person may have been wrong, neglectful, lazy, selfish, repeatedly forgetful, and defensive. But when we move from dealing with the problem itself to attacking the person, we put our relationship in danger. We move from being able to work on the problem with an eye to a positive solution to an attack on our spouse which is unloving and hurtful.

If you find that you are in a pattern of criticizing your spouse and not just lodging a complaint, you need to reflect on what you say and how you say it. You need to break the pattern and make a daily conscious choice to withhold critical remarks. Pray for a change of heart.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:29

Why is Date Night Important?

Most books that cover marriage and relationships come around to the importance of regular date nights.  Some go further and suggest quarterly weekends away and a week-long vacation once a year.  You may be asking date night weekly, quarterly weekends, vacations alone?  Who has the time for all that?  And what about the kids?  That’s just unrealistic.  We don’t have time!  We’re just too busy.  We don’t have any free time during the week.  Our schedule is full.

If you recognize any of the above reasons and are feeling that you really are just too busy, then I think it is best to go down a path of evaluation together.

Photo by yalcin Eren

Photo by yalcin Eren

With what are you too busy?  Understand that your relationship is your most important life commitment.  You can change jobs, where you live, and what house you live in, but you have committed to make this journey through life with your spouse and you want to enjoy that journey together.  We need to invest the time we have in what is most important to us.  Nothing is more important than a strong well-nourished marriage.

Times away on a weekly basis to connect help refresh and restore your relationship.  It is a time for recharging, reconnecting, laughing, and reminiscing about favorite times together.

For some reason when you think back to when you were dating, you did have time to be together.  You looked forward to it.  Now you’re married and those times together are needed even more to keep your relationship strong, vibrant, growing, and to keep you connected and in touch with each other.

If you are not having regular dates nights weekly, then I want you to stop and honestly ask yourself why.  Why is it that other things are always taking priority?

You may find that you need to cancel something else.  Yes, that’s right.  You may need to cancel some other scheduled meeting and in place of it put “our time.”

red-sunset-1397904

Photo by James White

Don’t let the excuse of the children keep you from date nights. Enlist some relatives, a trustworthy teen, or set up a couple to trade child care duties.  They need a date night just as much as you do and you can do each other a great favor that way.

If you reschedule so you have a consistent date night, you’ll find over time that it is well worth it.  Relationships need to be nourished in order to thrive.  Even your children will benefit from you committing to taking time away together.  It may be tough to coordinate if you have kids, but it will be a blessing to them if you do.

Hey You! Listen Up!

Has your wife ever said, “You’re not listening to me!”

There are times when these words come out tearfully and loaded with overwhelming emotion or with anger and frustration.  Either way, the message is clear:  All of us guys can do a better job at listening to our wives.

Photo by CELAL TEBER

Photo by CELAL TEBER

The familiar scenario has the husband getting home, rummaging through the mail for bills, making a quick run to the bathroom, and returning to the family room to open his laptop to check the last few work emails. He yells back to his wife in the kitchen the obligatory, “How did your day go?”  She reviews the challenges of raising 3 active kids, and the stressful issues that came up.  When she looks around the corner to discover her husband with his gaze fixed on the laptop, she asks, “Have you been listening to me?” to which he replies, “Of course.  I just have to get this one email done.”  And that means he should be done in 20 to 30 minutes.  She walks back to the kitchen thinking, “Right! One email.”

Has this scenario ever happened in your home? Some of us, habitually turn on the TV or read the newspaper.  Still others disappear to the office to put things away, emerging in 45 minutes.  So much is vying for our attention, we often are drawn away from attending to the ones we love.

And then we hear that this pattern of behavior is justified because, well…. Men just need some time to unwind.

Photo by Janelle Siegrist

Photo by Janelle Siegrist

We basically just get our priorities all wrong.

Am I guilty?  Convicted to the core.  I have done this for years.  It is a worn-in pattern.  But it can and should be changed.  If we love our wives, we should first look to their needs, giving them our undivided attention.  How did their day really go?  We should actively listen to hear not only the message but the heart.  Maybe she revealed the facts about her day, but if you listen to hear her heart she is really saying “I just need a hug.  Today was rough.”

I have a bad habit of “kind of” listening.  That means I do something else and listen in the background.  I have even caught myself needing to “play back” what Darleen has said, as if I have a tape recording in my head.  Ouch!!!  Yes, I do love you, but I only half listen when you talk to me.

So here’s the deal.  listen and pay full attention to your spouse.  No more half-baked efforts.  On the way home from work, decompress and use the time to transition your mind to the people love. If this applies to some of you ladies out there, then so be it.

It is often said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak!

I Said I Was Sorry!

Have you ever heard those words or spoken them?  Why is it that so many times we need to come back and say again, “I SAID I was sorry! What more do you want me to say?”

Cecilia Johansson

Cecilia Johansson

The Apology is needed in every marriage tool box.  Why?  Because we all mess up. We all make mistakes, and do things we promised not to do.  We say things that are insensitive and hurtful, and the list goes on.

Generally speaking, we are not very good at apologies.  We often mouth the words but true repentance is far from reality.  Inwardly we are saying, “I’m sorry, but ….”    So our spouse doesn’t believe us for a minute and thinks if you were REALLY sorry, you’d stop doing whatever and quit making lame excuses.  Ouch.  I guess it doesn’t look like I’m really sorry.

How do we apologize?  I mean REALLY apologize.  So that it is accepted.  How do I honestly convey my regret?

Fortunately, there an app for that!!  Oops, I mean a book for that.  There may be an app for that, but for now a book will do.  I’m referring to The Five Languages of Apology Amazon by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas.  Yes, you’re right.  This is the same Gary Chapman who authored The Five Love Languages.

What an insightful book.  It looks into the ways that we typically apologize, our apology temperament if you will.  Here are the five languages of apology:

  • Expressing Regret – I am sorry
  • Accepting Responsibility – I was wrong
  • Making Restitution – What Can I do to make this right?
  • Genuinely Repenting – I’ll try not to do that again
  • Requesting Forgiveness – Will you please forgive me?

Most of us are looking for an apology to be sincere.  An apology that has an excuse built right into it is worthless.  You are simply absolving yourself on the back end of a hollow “I’m sorry”.

We also like to hear the offender take ownership of what happened and not spread the blame onto others.

There are a series a questions in the book that help you identify your particular language of apology or what’s important to you when someone is apologizing to you.  Is it enough that they express regret, or is it important to you that they also clearly accept responsibility.

And so, I’m sorry for not going in to more detail in this blog.  I know it’s my fault and I could have done a better job. Next time I will.  Will you please forgive me?

Now, go home and tell your spouse you’re sorry.