Marriage and Health
A bad marriage or long-term relationship can have detrimental
effects on your health, while a good one can protect you from
disease and speed recovery. Sociologist Linda Waite, Ph.D.,
says, "Marriage is sort of like a life preserver or a seat
belt. We can put it exactly in the same category as eating a
good diet, getting exercise, and not smoking."
John Gottman, Ph.D., a well-respected psychologist and marriage
researcher reports that an unhappy marriage can increase your
chances of becoming ill by 35% and take four years off your
life! He believes â€œworking on your marriage every day will do
more for your health and longevity than working out at a health
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Although many of us believe that anger is the root cause
of unhappy relationships, Gottman notes that it is not conflict
itself that is the problem, but how we handle it. Venting anger
constructively can actually do wonders to clear the air and
get a relationship back in balance. However, conflict does become
a problem when it is characterized by the presence of what Gottman
calls the â€œFour Horsemen of the Apocalypse:â€ criticism, contempt,
defensiveness, and stonewalling.
1. Criticism. Criticism involves attacking your partnerâ€™s
personality or character, rather than focusing on the specific
behavior that bothers you. It is healthy to air disagreements,
but not to attack your spouseâ€™s personality or character in
the process. This is the difference between saying, â€œIâ€™m upset
that you didnâ€™t take out the trashâ€ and saying, â€œI canâ€™t believe
you didnâ€™t take out the trash. Youâ€™re just so irresponsible.â€
In general, women are more likely to pull this horseman into
2. Contempt. Contempt is one step up from criticism
and involves tearing down or being insulting toward your partner.
Contempt is an open sign of disrespect. Examples of contempt
include: putting down your spouse, rolling your eyes or sneering,
or tearing down the other person with so-called â€œhumor.â€
3. Defensiveness. Adopting a defensive stance in the
middle of conflict may be a natural response, but does not help
the relationship. When a person is defensive, he or she often
experiences a great deal of tension and has difficulty tuning
into what is being said. Denying responsibility, making excuses,
or meeting one complaint with another are all examples of defensiveness.
4. Stonewalling. People who stonewall simply refuse
to respond. Occasional stonewalling can be healthy, but as a
typical way of interacting, stonewalling during conflict can
be destructive to the marriage. When you stonewall on a regular
basis, you are pulling yourself out of the marriage, rather
than working out your problems. Men tend to engage in stonewalling
much more often than women do.
All couples will engage in these types of behaviors at some
point in their marriage, but when the four horsemen take permanent
residence, the relationship has a high likelihood of failing.
In fact, Gottmanâ€™s research reveals that the chronic presence
of these four factors in a relationship can be used to predict,
with over 80% accuracy, which couples will eventually divorce.
When attempts to repair the damage done by these horsemen are
met with repeated rejection, Gottman says there is over a 90%
chance the relationship will end in divorce.
Tips for Improving Your Marriage and Your Health
Given that having a strong marriage is such an important
key to staying healthy and happy, it makes sense to direct energy
into making your relationship the best that it can be. The investment
will truly be worth it. Below are some tips for making your
relationship a much healthier one:
1. Nurture your friendship. Do you know your spouseâ€™s
likes and dislikes, dreams, worries, fears and hopes? Do you
know in detail what your spouse did all day yesterday? Do you
know what types of pressures he or she faces at work? The basis
of a good marriage is a solid friendship. If a marriage is not
built on a strong friendship, it may be difficult to stay connected
over time. Make sure you take some time each day to confide
in one another. During these times, make it a priority to listen
and learn about your partnerâ€™s thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
2. Actively take steps to foster your liking and admiration
for your partner. Gottman says this is the antidote to contempt.
Remember your partner's good qualities. Why were you attracted
to your spouse in the first place? What did you originally love
or admire about your partner? By nurturing your fondness for
your spouse, you can foster a much more positive attitude toward
him or her.
3. Always behave respectfully toward your spouse.
In relationships that deteriorate over time, respect becomes
increasingly absent. Sadly, sometimes people end up treating
their spouses worse than they would ever treat a complete stranger.
By tolerating or engaging in disrespectful behavior, you actively
contribute to the demise of your relationship. Do you ever call
your spouse names? Do you ever berate your partner in front
of your friends or family? Do you consider how your spouse will
be affected by your cruel comments or actions? Take stock of
ways you or your spouse may cross the line of respect. Remember
that without respect, love cannot survive.
4. Accept and validate your partner. Recognize how
much power you have to build up your spouse up or tear him or
her down. You can help make your relationship a safe haven or
hell on earth. Remember, everyone needs to feel accepted for
who they are as a human being. Instead of attacking your spouse,
try to understand his or her point of view. Also, compliment
your spouse for ways he or she supports you and your relationship.
Itâ€™s easy to get so focused on what is wrong in a relationship
that you miss what is actually working.
5. Forgive one another. When your partner genuinely
reaches out to ask for forgiveness, do not turn away. Hurt feelings
and conflict are inevitable at times. When attempts to repair
this hurt are repeatedly rejected, the relationship takes a
hit. You may need time to let go of a grudge, bitterness, or
feelings of hurt, but donâ€™t close the door completely on your
partnerâ€™s attempts to make things better. Reach deep inside
and work on healing together.
6. Calm down. When conflict escalates, people can
become â€œfloodedâ€ by strong emotions, leading to physical distress,
stonewalling and defensiveness. Take a few deep breaths or call
a time out. Most people need about 20 minutes to actually calm
their bodies down. Take the time and come back to the issues
at hand when you can actually listen to what the other person
is saying without being overwhelmed.
7. Let your partner influence you. In general, men
are less likely to look for common ground with their wives.
Gottman notes "When a man is not willing to share power
with his partner, there is an 81% chance that his marriage will
self-destruct.â€ Remember that good marriages involve give and
take. You are on the same team and need to work together for
the sake of your relationship.
8. Warm up your relationship. Keep your relationship
healthy by ensuring that there are at least five positive interactions
for every negative one. Gottmanâ€™s research has identified that
a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones is linked
to the stability of a marriage, no matter what your typical
style of resolving conflict. If there is too much negativity,
the relationship suffers.
9. Learn to let some things go. Although your spouse
may do things that drive you crazy, remember you can cope. It
is not worth it to struggle over every little thing. Solve the
problems that are solvable and let the others go. You must learn
to pick your battles carefully.
10. Donâ€™t forget to work on yourself. A relationship
is just like a dance. You move in unison to create something
that is truly unique. What type of partner are you? Do you work
with your partner or pull hard in another direction? Do you
step on her toes? Do you gaze in his eyes or focus only on your
next steps? Remember you control 50% of what happens in your
relationship. Be sure you are a good partner.
For Further Reading