I watched my niece radiate as she and her husband-to-be were making their wedding vows. The groom talked about noticing my niece from the moment they met. He knew her roommates and regularly showed up at the house uninvited. My niece shared how she flat out enjoyed this man’s company, e.g., cycling, camping, traveling. They seemed so easy with each other and looked at each other in the way only newlyweds can. The love seems so everlasting but how do we know for sure? So much promise but what is their future?
Strangely enough science knows. Dr. John Gottman’s research demonstrates that by observing 3 minutes of a couple’s conversation, his research team could predict with 91% accuracy whether a couple will remain married in 6 years. He discovered that if the dialogue consisted of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, the couple was significantly less likely to stay married.
This was transformative research in the field of couples counseling. However, the challenge is to breakdown the results of these studies into the day-to-day interactions of couples. In the couples counseling office, subtle forms of expression can ignite conflict. For example, some forms of criticism are apparent, e.g., “You’re despicable!”, versus more subtle forms, “Why did you do that?” Both comments can set off conflict. Generally conflict begins with more subtle forms of criticism and develops into more severe and apparent forms. Once the criticism-defensiveness train gathers momentum, it’s hard to stop.