The period drama Mad Men highlighted the American cultural revolution during the 1960s, when it was a man’s world at home and when sexual banter at the office wasn’t yet harassment.  Not long after the final episode ended in the time period 1970, an unknown researcher was beginning another “relationship” revolution.

John Gottman began scientifically studying married couples, using methods and standards as rigorous as those used by medical science, that continues today.  So when men (and women) ask me to be specific about how to create less relationship stress and more happiness at home, I have some concrete, evidence-based information to share.

SHARING POWER WITH YOUR PARTNER SAFEGUARDS YOUR MARRIAGE

iStock_000017476126_MediumA generation ago, a wife might not leave her husband if he treated her with disrespect or disregard.  Now these behaviors are recognized as one of the most dangerous things a man can do to jeopardize his marriage.

Even in the 1990s — when Gottman’s research first revealed that the happiest, most stable marriages were those in which the husband shared decision-making with his wife and negotiated versus dominated during arguments — it was pilloried by Rush Limbaugh and parodied (hilariously, I must admit) on SNL.  Even so, Gottman’s study in unprecedented detail of real life couples discussing areas of conflict in their marriages gives us a glimpse into how successful couples are able to navigate marital minefields.

The flip side of Gottman’s research is a staggering statistic: “When a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct.”  WHOA!  Now that I have your attention…

How A Man Can Destroy His Marriage in Four Easy Steps:

“When a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81 percent chance that his marriage will self-destruct.”

So exactly how does a man go about resisting his partner’s influence?  Gottman observed four very specific types of behavior that actually “escalated the negativity and led to instability in the marriage.”

Here are some specific examples cited in Gottman’s research of how a husband can be unresponsive to his wife’s feelings in a way that escalates the negativity.  Let’s say the wife says, “You’re not listening to me!”

  1. Husband’s critical response: “I don’t listen because what you say never makes any sense.”
  2. Husband’s contemptuous response: “Why waste my time?”
  3. Husband’s defensive response: “Yes I am!”
  4. Husband’s stonewalling response:  Says nothing. Ignores her.

How A Man Can Save His Marriage in Two Easy Steps:

So how might a man tone down the negativity or at least not make it worse?  Here are some examples observed in clinical studies of actual couples having a disagreement:

  1. Matching the Negativity Without Going Beyond It:  “I’m finding it hard to listen to you!”
  2. Toning Down the Negativity: “Sorry, I’m listening now.”

In my experience, helping couples find their own ways to translate “respect, shared decision-making and searching for common ground” into doable behaviors that feel easy and natural is some of the most important (and rewarding) work I do in counseling sessions.

The New Aphrodisiac

This one may be a real surprise for husbands — but maybe not for wives.  Husbands who do more housework, especially the manly kind, have more sex than husbands who don’t help out around the house.