Duana C. Welch says there are a few science-backed things you can do to get along with a seemingly difficult partner.
Ever know a woman who’s always right—or at least, one who thinks she is? Of course, nobody’s perfect. And great relationships rest on the ability to tactfully deal with differences.
But how do you do that? Science has answers. And it’s some of the best-conducted relationship research in the world.
Dr. John M. Gottman studied couples for more than 35 years—not only adding new couples each year of the study, but continuing to observe those who were there from the start. And he and his team figured out, definitively, what makes for relational happiness.
Fortunately, they also discerned how you can do it too—in three mostly easy steps that ensure a better sex life, fuller wallet, greater happiness, and better health. And did I mention the sex?
Now that I’ve got your attention…
Step 1: Recognize and respect your Relationship Mechanic’s work.
Most men gallantly discharge tasks including lawn work, car care, and open-flame cooking. Some—God love them—scrub toilets. Meanwhile, women maintain relationships. But whereas men’s chivalry is appropriately acknowledged as important work, women’s efforts are frequently called by another name: nagging.
Although this can be painful to the more Silent Sex, fully 80% of difficult issues are brought up by the woman in heterosexual couples. And neither cars nor relationships run well without maintenance. In the happiest couples, the woman does *not* accept a lackluster relationship as the norm, nor does she ignore problems as her anger builds. Instead, she does the vital job of complaining, insisting on protecting and enhancing the relationship.
So make a mental shift to honor your Relationship Mechanic’s work. It’s the couples who are disengaged –living separate, lonely lives, often without bothering to fight anymore– who are at the greatest risk of misery and breaking up.
Step 2: Prevent harsh startup by including her input.
Some women are better Mechanics than others, though. Difficult Women criticize instead of gently voicing a mere complaint about the specific behavior at hand; just because research shows criticism never helps a relationship doesn’t mean women have gotten The Memo. If “Remember how we used to cuddle? Let’s do it tonight,” has routinely become “You selfish jerk! You never consider my needs,” it’s a statistical guarantee that you’re headed towards For Worse.
Fortunately, you can reverse the Difficult Woman metamorphosis, especially if you still admire and like her. Most women only turn Difficult after months or years of feeling disrespected when their input is ignored. So the solution is straightforward: Include her input.
Does this mean saying “Yes, Dear”? No; constant agreement is impossible. In fact, 69% of problems are unsolvable in all relationships, including the happy ones. Instead, convey respect by considering your sweetie’s perspective in life’s decisions and discussions, big and small–whether or not you ultimately do it her way. Concretely, this means calling her before you agree to a night out with the guys; asking her opinion on what TV to buy; listening if she has ideas about skim vs. 2%; and doing the difficult discussions instead of tuning her out.
Some call these men whipped. Researchers use a different term: Happy.
Step 3: Recognize a flooded engine, and know what to do about it.
It’s happening again: The woman in your life has broached a sore subject, and she’s done it harshly. Take your pulse—really. If it’s over 100 beats per minute, Gottman’s science says you’re “flooded” and won’t process another thing right now.
What most men do at this point is called “stonewalling”–watching their mate’s mouth move while failing to respond in any way, and hoping it will eventually be over. Although research shows that men stonewall to avoid escalating a fight, it usually has the opposite effect. And of the four destructive disagreement techniques (in order: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling)—habitual stonewalling is the deadliest for a relationship’s longevity, heralding an end that is near indeed.
So don’t stonewall. Instead, take a break. You’ll require 20- to 30 minutes of TV or some other non-alcoholic distraction—after which it’s vital for you to return to the discussion. Imagine your Difficult Woman’s shock when she assassinates your character, only to find that your response is to calmly stop her, tell her you want to continue the talk after you’ve had a half-hour break—after which you actually return to consider her opinion. The goodwill you’ll buy will prove priceless. And over time, you’ll win. Not the battle—not the war—the peace.
If you follow these steps, your entire relationship will improve, because very few Difficult Women continue behaving badly in an ongoing atmosphere of respect.
Plus, you’ll be right in every important sense. Always.
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