It’s been said that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words per day. The average man, on the other hand, hovers closer to 7,000. I can definitely attest to this in my own marriage with Tony. Although I’ve often wondered if he might actually be closer to the 3,000 words per day mark which only makes my normal 20,000 seem really extreme. In any case, I talk more than he does. I tend to be more descriptive in my accounts of the day. More of my energy goes toward calendar planning and budget questions than his does. Like many married women, I tend to be responsible for the majority of the communication in our family. It turns out, that also means I tend to be responsible for bringing up tough stuff that has the potential for turning into an all-out fight.
According to Dr. John Gottman’s research in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, I’m right on par with wives everywhere. He says:
If there’s one similarity between happy and unhappy marriages, it’s that in both circumstances the wife is far more likely than the husband to bring up a touchy issue and to push to resolve it. But there’s a dramatic difference in how the wife brings it up (159).
Now, this is the same Dr. Gottman that can predict with 96% accuracy whether or not a couple will divorce within watching the first three minutes of a conflict discussion. His research in the famed “Love Lab” shows that the way an issue is brought up in the first place will have a heavy effect on how it ends. Since wives are the ones more often bringing up these difficult issues, it means that the ownership on the direction of a discussion – whether it becomes something productive or a door-slamming fight – lays heavily on us.
The difference, Gottman says, between the way a wife brings up a discussion in a happy or unhappy marriage is in the “startup”: the manner in which that discussion is brought up in the first place. If the startup is harsh, there is a greater likelihood that her spouse will be defensive and uncooperative. If the startup is softer, there is a greater likelihood that she will be received and heard and that her influence will be accepted by her husband. Wondering what the differences are? Let’s see if we can break it down…
Along with the above, I’ve been trying to practice a few other things. For instance, if I’m upset about something and it will be a while until I see Tony, rather than calling or texting him immediately with what’s bothering me, I try to think about what our last few interactions have been like. If they haven’t been mostly positive, I’ll wait. I’ll even shoot him an “I miss you” text, just to bring up my positive to negative ratio.
I also try to make sure my first interaction with him after I haven’t seen him for a while is positive and not negative, even if something is really on my mind. I never want him to walk in the door to a complaining wife. I wouldn’t want him to greet me with something he’s irritated about either. Also, when it comes to text, emotions can be easily misconstrued, so I try really hard to use “benefit of the doubt” language, like “hey, I’m not sure if you remember, but I have an appointment tonight so I really need you to be home on time from work” instead of “Don’t forget like you did last time! I don’t want to be late today!”
As women, we have immense influence over resolving conflicts in our home, if only we truly believed it and used it for our family’s benefit. The Bible says, “A wise woman makes her home what it should be, but the home of a foolish woman is destroyed by her own actions.” Let us be wise, soften our startup, and #staymarried.
P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read Repair Attempts. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
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