Family Talk: Home remedies can better your relationship
In my last column, I told the story of a young man I did not know who was seated next to me at the Oklahoma City Thunder game and who had surprisingly asked me, “How do you keep it together ... with your woman?”
I discussed Dr. John Gottman's “Four horsemen” who fight hard to break up relationships.
They are 1.) Criticism, 2.) Defensiveness, 3.) Contempt and 4.) Stonewalling.
Fortunately, there are antidotes to the poison these horsemen can inject into relationships. We need a “home remedy.”
Have you ever tried a “home remedy?” My mom was famous for them. The all-time favorite was the “wool sock” cure for a sore throat or cough. Mom would apply a generous lather of Vicks VapoRub to my neck, then carefully wrap a warm washcloth around my neck which was then held in place by a wool sock safety pinned (safely) around my neck. Obviously, you wouldn't go to school with that thing wrapped around your neck, but it was a great nighttime remedy. Most of the time (and I don't know why), you woke up the next morning feeling better.
Sometimes we need to apply a wool sock around our neck to save or improve our marriages. Here's the home remedy, but it's prescribed by a doctor, Dr. John Gottman:
To combat “criticism,” try to eliminate sentences that start with “You” and begin with descriptions about how “I” feel. You might try apply this formula: “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.” So if my wife is always late to church, you might say, “When we're getting ready to go to church, and you consistently run late, I get anxious and frustrated.” This transforms a “you” problem into an “us” problem that we can both work toward solving.
To fight "contempt,” we can try to build a culture of appreciation. Make note (maybe literally) about your partners' good traits and attributes and express appreciation for them. Contempt combined with criticism is a relationship killer.
To deal with “defensiveness,” (and this takes work!) try looking at issues from your partner's perspective. Stop yourself, even mid-sentence, when you feel yourself getting defensive and take a breath. Consider apologizing sincerely. Admit you were getting defensive and start over. And if your partner is mature enough to admit they were getting defensive, don't rub it in and punish them with, “See, I told you! You always get defensive!”
Finally, to snuff out "stonewalling," you may take a break and collect yourself and your thoughts. Whenever you're engaging in an argument with your spouse and you're tempted to shut down, go silent or go AWOL, try this: Call a time out. Set a time period and agree to get back together at the conclusion of the time. “Honey, I feel myself shutting down. Can we take a 15-minute break and then come back together to finish talking about this?” But you have to get back together, otherwise it's just another form of stonewalling.
These home remedies work. Better than a wool sock around your neck. Give them a try and it might just save your neck, and your relationship.
Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.