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What are the most important factors in marriage success?


According to marriage research conducted by John Gottman, among the most important predictors of marriage success are:


·       The man's ability to accept influence from his partner; and

·       The woman's ability to moderate her approach to seeking influence.


In other words, marriages succeed when both partners give up some control.


For men, this usually means agreeing to try some of the approaches suggested by his partner instead of withdrawing, surrendering or jumping in with a premature resolution at the first sign of conflict. We're not talking about merely complying with your partner's wishes regardless of whether you agree. It's not that she always gets her way. Influence means respecting her viewpoint and being willing to discuss issues.


For example: He wants to buy a small car. She recommends a larger vehicle, since they plan to start a family soon. On reflection, he decides that it makes sense to buy something larger.


For women, a moderate approach usually means toning down her insistence on getting a reaction from her partner even when she feels desperate to have a response. She doesn't give up raising the issues that are important to her, but she's patient and sensitive in how she engages him.


Example: Rather than asking him to discuss what kind of car to buy on a weeknight when he's tired, she suggests that they talk about it on the weekend. Instead of starting the discussion on a critical note about his preference, she is careful to suggest that they consider their future needs before deciding.


It's a bit paradoxical. Both partners seem to get more of what they want when they give up some control. How can this be? As we've often noted, men and women have different styles when it comes to conflict, as in so many other things.


Men have a very low tolerance for unstructured conflict. They just can't seem to stand it when their partner brings up a sensitive issue, especially when they are feeling burdened or depleted by work or other demands. They often react by distancing themselves or withdrawing.


(These findings about gender-related characteristics are based on marriage research result averages for the genders, so while there may be individual differences and exceptions, the findings hold for most people to a greater or lesser degree.)


Women on the other hand, can't stand to feel ignored, especially when they're trying to bring up something that's important to them. And that's just how they feel when their partner gets overloaded and withdraws. Often they react by criticizing and/or escalating. And that's just what their partner can't tolerate.


So for guys: Try to be open to your partner's point of view. Don't avoid issues or try to railroad your point of view. If you start to feel overloaded, it's okay to withdraw until you feel more able to handle a rational discussion. But it's important to let your partner know that you aren't dodging the issue. Make a specific appointment to resume the discussion-"in twenty minutes" or "Saturday morning at breakfast"--so she'll know that you hear her.


And women: Start discussions calmly and positively. Avoid criticizing and escalating. If possible, schedule a mutually agreeable time to discuss your issue when your partner is feeling less depleted or burdened.


Believe it or not, these are the behaviors that research shows are among those most likely to contribute to a successful marriage.



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Copyright 2003, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.






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