This is a continuation from the previous post in which I excerpted John Gottman’s 9 predictors of divorce from his book The Science of Trust. Today I continue the review of a few of the predictors to highlight what you can do as Standers to respond rather than react to those predictors coming from our spouse—so they are not becoming predictors within both partners. To read the entire list, please review the first post in this series.
Failure of repair attempts.
I think what Gottman said about this is an excellent overall statement. I will repeat it again: “…our goal is to help people process their inevitable fights and moments of miscommunication or hurt feelings, and to enable them to repair the relationship.”
Being a Stander is about repair. As I said in the previous Gottman article, “during MLC your marriage is not at a place where you can start working on it. When a spouse is in MLC and leaving there is a different sort of work going on.” But you can activate your repair mechanisms so that you do not react to your MLCers negativity with negativity. That’s what the Unconditionals are all about.
Negative sentimental override.
It is this predictor that I found most interesting for this discussion; Gottman’s description was a page long and I wanted to copy all of it! It is perhaps, the trait that you are at greatest risk of having during your spouse’s MLC.
With detachment you learn positive sentiment override when you do not take your MLCer’s negative behaviors and interactions with you personally. Good Job. But an MLCer’s negative actions can erode your strength. In negative sentiment override, there is “…a “subtext” that accompanies all interactions, and people start seeing their partner as having negative traits, such as being selfish, insensitive, or mean.”
Well, how about it? Do you see the majority of your MLCer’s actions as selfish, insensitive or mean? It’s MLC, the majority of their actions probably are selfish, insensitive and mean! They are also narcissistic and abusive. Are those negative traits pointing to character or behavior? Those are the traits of Monster, but I see a lot of people looking back at their marriage and rewriting or reinterpreting their pre-MLC spouse’s behaviors with those same labels. I’m just realizing it now seems to be a common experience among many. The Bomb Drop and subsequent spiral of negativity strips off the rose-colored glasses, but what replaces them? For some the reinterpretation may be reality; maybe your friends and family all saw what you would not. But for others it’s just another form of historical revision—just like your MLCer has been doing. “We found that these negative traits people see in their partners are also related to retelling the history of their relationship in negative terms.” That seems to sum it up. Focusing on the negatives increases your emotional connections to them and blocks memories or emotional connections to the positives and it may even increase paranoia and cause you to question the accuracy of your positive memories. This creates a cascade effect in which you begin to doubt your ability to interpret situations and you lose trust in your own judgment. If you begin to believe that your life up to now was a lie, this may lead to anger and depression.
Observers of happy couples agreed with the partners when interpreting positive behaviors. But unhappy couples recognized only 50% (relative to what observers recognized) of their spouse’s positive behaviors. 50%! That’s a lot. Imagine failing to notice half of the appreciations and praises sent your way—though they are sent, you fail to receive. Now, in MLC, you may not be getting any, it may be your MLCer who is failing to recognize your positive actions. They are paranoid and see your actions as having a manipulative agenda, so even when they know something appears positive; they may interpret it as a facade.
Maybe, just maybe your MLCer still has some positive behaviors; maybe you’re ignoring, dismissing or not noticing them because they have nothing to do with your relationship or because you don’t want to count them since the negative behaviors act as an eraser to the positives. I get that. When Sweetheart lived with the alienator, he kept up financial responsibility and even came to the house to do chores—big chores like painting the deck and mowing the lawn. Though I recognized and appreciated his actions, he wanted me to acknowledge them as positive spousal actions. I told him that none of them counted while he was involved with the alienator. But the difference is that once he left, the emotional marriage bank was able to open to those and they piled in as credits—but not until he left the alienator. Recognize your spouse’s positive actions—maybe they’re still a great parent or a great son or daughter to their own parent who may need care. Maybe they pay their bills on time. Maybe they are good at their career. Find something positive to be the seed.
Maintaining vigilance and physiological arousal.
Practice self-soothing techniques such as yoga, meditation, exercise… Different things work for different people, so find what works for you and understand that something may be less efficient while you are still learning the techniques; stick with your practice. Also consider how your self-soothing techniques can influence your MLCer or others during high-conflict interactions or by preventing an interaction from escalating. A calm voice may help others. I learned to soothe Sweetheart by giving him massages and speaking words of hope and encouragement in a soft voice while I gave him massages—I integrated hypnotherapy with massage.
The failure of men to accept influence from their women.
Okay guys, obviously this one is about you. You may think this is about all those other guys, but not you since you acknowledge your wife’s skills. She’s great at her career, and an amazing mom…
But what about repair mechanisms during or after conflict? How receptive were you to her attempts to help you self-soothe and calm down? Did you withdraw or disengage emotionally? Or did escalate with high emotions such as defensiveness, contempt and belligerence? According to Gottman, the master relationship men “…tend to say things like “okay,” or “god point,” or “you’re making perfect sense, really,” or “you’re starting to convince me.” This is not compliance; it is lively give and take.”
Do you have to be right—always? Do you have to have the last word in an argument? Is it difficult for you to admit when you are wrong-even when you admit it to yourself? Do you have trouble saying I’m sorry? Gottman’s research found this to be more common in men than women, but ladies, you may be guilty too—in my marriage I’m sorry is my challenge; Sweetheart knows how to use it well.