The Gottman Institute has been researching what makes marriages work for 40 years. In a recent article in the Washington Post, John Gottman and Christopher Dollard addressed five common myths on what makes marriages work.
Myth #1 Common interests keep you together.
Some popular dating sites use evaluation of common interests to match potential partners. Surveys have found that the majority of people believe that having common interests are helpful to marriages, even more important than having satisfying sexual relationships or common political beliefs!
However, the Gottman Institute has found it isn’t the amount of common interests that is important, but how couples interact while being together. If a couple is critical of one another while enjoying their love of square dancing, it will not serve as the common bond we think it will.
Myth #2 Never go to bed angry
This common advice urges couples to solve their problems right away. However, the Gottman Institute found that many couples become so physiologically aroused during a fight (evidenced by increased heart rate, perspiring, higher cortisol levels), they are unable to think rationally. Instead, they teach couples to stop fighting if they are feeling overwhelmed, take a break, and return to the issue later.
Myth #3 Couples therapy is for a broken marriage
Seeking counseling early into a marriage is often seen as a red flag indicating the presence of serious problems. Most couples wait six years after the onset of problems to seek counseling and by that time, it is often too late, given that half of marriages end within the first seven years. Most folks think of marriage counseling as an attempt to save a troubled marriage, but it can actually be quite beneficial to low conflict couples. Couples counseling is about learning conflict-management tools that can help maintain a marriage.
Myth #4 Affairs are the main cause of divorce
Affairs certainly erode the basis of trust in a relationship, but the cause of the affair typically occurs many years prior. John and Julie Gottman discovered that partners who have affairs usually complain of loneliness rather than forbidden attraction. In a study from the Divorce Mediation Project, 80 percent of divorced men and women cited growing apart and loss of a sense of closeness to their partner as the reason for divorce rather than extramarital affairs.
Myth #5 Marriages benefit from a ‘relationship contract’
Formalizing fairness in a formal or informal contract seems to be trending lately. Contracts address issues from the division of household chores to the frequency of dates and sex. And while this may seem reasonable, marital therapists at the Gottman Institute find that keeping track can cause couples to keep score, which can then lead to resentment. If expectations are quantified, disappointment can lead to resentment, which works like acid in a relationship. In a recent study of 3,000 couples published by the Harvard Business School, the solution to fights over sharing of household responsibility was to avoid the contract and instead spend money on a cleaning service. This allowed couples to have more positive interactions and fewer arguments.
As Gottman and Dollard said, “couples need to act in kind and loving ways, intentionally and attentively, as often as they can. Some things simply cannot be mandated, not even by contract.”
Gottman, J. & Dollard, C. (2018). Five myths about marriage. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-marriage/2018/06/01/5646e650-6438-11e8-a69c-b944de66d9e7_story.html?utm_term=.18e46a5bc1b0