6 Truths About Marriage

24 Dec, 2009 || by

Marriage, by its very nature, tends to be complicated and difficult.  It is a friendship, a partnership, and a business relationship all rolled into one.  Problems can, and usually do, crop up in any and all these three areas. Complicating matters even more, when a problem occurs in one area, it is likely to bleed over into the other areas.  This can make it difficult, if not impossible, to tease out what the real “issue” is (was), and then hopefully work out a reasonable solution.

While many marriage issues can be resolved through simple communication skills and the desire by both people in the marriage to use them, very often communication is one of the first skills to close down when feelings get hurt.  Mountains can develop out of molehills to the point that we feel that the energy required to climb the mountain is not worth the problem.  Resignation sets in, defenses go up, and lines are drawn.

In an effort to simplify the complexity of marriage problems, two psychologists, Dr. Clifford Notarius and Dr. Howard Markman, spent twenty years observing and studying couples during the good times and the bad.  In 1993 they published a book, We Can Work it Out: Making Sense of Marital Conflict, outlining their observations, as well as techniques couples could use to resolve marital difficulties.  One part of the book, “The Six Simple Truths of Marriage,” offer an opportunity to take some of the complexity out of marriage, and serve as a guide for couples as they navigate through difficult times.

The “Six Truths,” according to Drs. Notarius and Markman, are:

  1. Each relationship contains a hidden reservoir of hope. Simply stated, this refers to the fact that “most partners retain their wish for relationship improvement even when the going is the toughest”.  When a couple is fighting and statements are being exchanged, each statement is usually being said with the hope that it will help.  Likewise however, each statement made by one person stands a good chance of being misunderstood as a hurtful comment.  The “reservoir of hope,” is that couples must learn to listen to one another with the understanding that each is, in his or her own way, trying to help the relationship.
  2. One “zinger” will erase twenty acts of kindness. Notarius and Markman state that “it takes one put-down to undo hours of kindness you give to your partner.”  This is comparable to the fact that you can exercise for an hour to help lose weight, but wipe out that progress in less than a minute by eating a candy bar.  In general, couples need to monitor their negative exchanges.
  3. Little changes in you can lead to huge changes in the relationship. It is a natural tendency on the part of most people to believe that when they are in conflict with someone else, it is that someone else who is wrong.  The deeper belief is that if that someone else would only change, or realize I’m right, everything would be fine.  The “Simple Truth” is that this approach is a dead-end.  It is only through making even little changes in ourselves that meaningful change in the relationship can be realized. Using the previous “Truth” described above as an example, while one or two “zingers” may not be too detrimental to a relationship, if those one or two are multiplied by 365 days in a year, the damage sustained may become insurmountable.
  4. It’s not the differences between partners that cause problems, but how the differences are handled when they arise. There are always going to be differences between partners in a relationship…differences are inevitable.  Oftentimes however, these differences lead couples to believe they are just not compatible.  This belief can quickly become set in stone, resulting in a stand-off between partners.  Rather than let this happen, partners must accept their differences and learn how to better handle them.  The development of better listening skills is a good place to start.  As Notarius and Markman say, “Having a good listener is having a good friend.”
  5. Men and women fight using different weapons, but suffer similar wounds. “Men and women differ very little in their desire for intimacy and connection.  For a variety of reasons, both biological and cultural, men have a harder time handling conflict, while women have a harder time coping with emotional distance.” Thus, men are more prone to withdraw from uncomfortable discussions while women are more prone to working through issues.  Appreciating these differences and learning to work around them is an important step in developing a more effective style for working through issues.
  6. Partners need to practice relationship skills in order to become good at them. Relationships are complicated, disagreements are inevitable, and fights are uncomfortable.  Most of us are not very good at resolving conflicts using the methods discussed in this article, therefore our conflicts usually don’t turn out well.  As a result, we typically try to avoid conflict so as not to makes matters worse.  Without practice using the skills mentioned above, as well as the basic relationship needs for closeness and intimacy, it will be difficult to make improvements in your marriage.

Years ago, Eric Berne wrote a book called Games People Play.  He stated that most interactions involve “games” we play out with each other on a daily basis; some good, some bad, some dangerous.  Marriage tends to be a very intense game with very complicated and ever-changing rules. When the rules become too complicated, the game loses its fun factor.  If the fun and intrigue vanishes for very long, most people want to stop playing.  Simplifying the rules and making them more understandable and easily applicable can revitalize the game, making it more enjoyable, rewarding, and less likely to result in disagreements.

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2 Responses to “6 Truths About Marriage”

  1. Absolutely love your blog! Definitely bookmarking it.

  2. Dr. David S. Kantra says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Matt!

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