I just started my Sunday with a couple shots of espresso and some dallying on the Interweb, where I stumbled upon this study which proves that marriage, “cheers you up, improves your diet, and helps you live longer.” Goody! The reasons stated seem to be the expected ones—harmonious commitments provide support systems for physical and mental health. But the key to these benefits is: your marriage has to be a happy one.
I’ve been thinking about rocky marriages quite a bit recently (not to worry, family, just book research) and turning to John Gottman. If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, you may remember Gottman’s studies about predicting which marriages will endure and which will flounder. Gottman concurs that a good marriage is linked to better health and a longer life and even thinks that happily married folks have stronger immune systems than the unmarried or unhappily wedded.
In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Gottman explores the reasons why certain types of discord lead to poor health. His theory is based on studies which monitor the prevalence of what he calls, “the four horseman of the apocalypse” which are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. These tell-tale signs produce stress that, over time, takes a cumulative toll on the immune system. When couples trot out the four horsemen they experience something that he calls “flooding”—you feel overwhelmed, your heart races, and eventually you shut the other person out as a means of protection. Sound familiar? Well, it’s not great for the old white blood cells. Or the longevity of your marriage.
According to JG, contempt between couples is the greatest predicator of divorce since contempt is often a result of habitual bad feelings and thoughts that don’t get repaired. But he also goes so far as to say, “Couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illnesses (colds, flu, and so on) than other people.”
Damn. So what’s the antidote? Well, something that Gottman explores–which I think is pretty interesting–is the idea that most marital conflicts cannot be resolved. Say what? In fact, you can scream, yell, stomp, sweep pesky issues under the rug, and still be happily married. My understanding of this idea is that it’s not about whether you forever agree that the last person up makes the bed or on where you spend holidays. Instead, it’s about how you repair the conflicts you get into and what your overriding sentiment towards each other is. Repair is different from resolve i.e. the huz might repair an argument by mooning me on his way out of the kitchen and diffusing the tension, but we still might not agree on how many people to invite to a BBQ. In short, “fondness and admiration” are the antidote. Oh how I do love that pale, hairy arse, dear.
Oopsie, that sounded sarcastic, which would be a show of contempt. And I really do love that bum, I swear.
Okay, I must run because we are in fact having a BBQ this afternoon, which has turned into a dozen more than a few people. And believe it or not, it’s pouring rain. It NEVER occurred to us to check the weather. Oh well, maybe I’ll make rum cider instead of punch. Over and out.