What are marriage skills?
When I work with perpatrators of domestic violence in my psychoeducational classes, my male perpatrators often speak of being victimized by their female partners, who at the very least, can remember every mistake, sin, or oversight they have ever made.
The men sent to me are by and large unskilled at finding words for subtle experiences, or describing emotions, and do not have much experience with creating shared meaning, for example.
They struggle economically, and may have many children, or blended families, which can create friction.
Paternity issues and custody issues, gaining custody, or avoiding it, are major issues. Child support is a major concern.
So my work with them in creating relationships which offer choice rather than power and control ultimatums is very basic.
We start with reflective listening, and a belief about that skill which needs to be repeated many times until it is a habit.
That is the first marriage skill I teach, and the belief is that peaceful relationships, not story book relationships, are created in speaking and listening.
Most of my guys are surprised to learn that listening is a skill with discrete steps, which can be learned and managed, and they are skeptical that often their partners want to be heard, and yell loudly in order to be heard, not to overwhelm.
Many are quite surprised by the turn of events they experience with listening and asking for clarification if they are unclear about the message.
Solutions can be reached much more calmly.
The next marriage skill that I teach is some basic knowledge from the book FLOW by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi which speaks to the speed at which the Central Nervous System works. We change internally from cordiality to fight or flight in 1/18th second, and according to John Gottman in his The Art and Science of Love, it can take men 20 minutes to unflood or calm down.
Gottman advocates that couples take their pulse, and if it is over 100 BPM, then they spend the next 20 minutes calming down, before any more communication happens.
So calmness and listening are the two first marriage skills I teach.
Gottman offers some tips of his own, which follow. "Gottman’s Marriage Tips 101
Since 1973, Dr. John Gottman has studied what he calls the "masters and disasters" of marriage. Ordinary people from the general public took part in long-term studies, and Dr. Gottman learned what makes marriages fail, what makes them succeed, and what can make marriages a source of great meaning.
By examining partners’ heart rates, facial expressions, and how they talk about their relationship to each other and to other people, Dr. Gottman is able to predict with more than 90% accuracy which couples will make it, and which will not.
What advice does Dr. Gottman have to offer? Below are some of his top suggestions for how to keep your marriage strong.
* Seek help early. The average couple waits six years before seeking help for marital problems (and keep in mind, half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years). This means the average couple lives with unhappiness for far too long.
* Edit yourself. Couples who avoid saying every critical thought when discussing touchy topics are consistently the happiest.
* Soften your "start up." Arguments first "start up" because a spouse sometimes escalates the conflict from the get-go by making a critical or contemptuous remark in a confrontational tone. Bring up problems gently and without blame.
* Accept influence. A marriage succeeds to the extent that the husband can accept influence from his wife. If a woman says, "Do you have to work Thursday night? My mother is coming that weekend, and I need your help getting ready," and her husband replies, "My plans are set, and I'm not changing them". This guy is in a shaky marriage. A husband's ability to be influenced by his wife (rather than vice-versa) is crucial because research shows women are already well practiced at accepting influence from men, and a true partnership only occurs when a husband can do so as well.
* Have high standards. Happy couples have high standards for each other even as newlyweds. The most successful couples are those who, even as newlyweds, refused to accept hurtful behavior from one another. The lower the level of tolerance for bad behavior in the beginning of a relationship, the happier the couple is down the road.
* Learn to repair and exit the argument. Successful couples know how to exit an argument. Happy couples know how to repair the situation before an argument gets completely out of control. Successful repair attempts include: changing the topic to something completely unrelated; using humor; stroking your partner with a caring remark ("I understand that this is hard for you"); making it clear you're on common ground ("This is our problem"); backing down (in marriage, as in the martial art Aikido, you have to yield to win); and, in general, offering signs of appreciation for your partner and his or her feelings along the way ("I really appreciate and want to thank you for.…"). If an argument gets too heated, take a 20-minute break, and agree to approach the topic again when you are both calm.
* Focus on the bright side. In a happy marriage, while discussing problems, couples make at least five times as many positive statements to and about each other and their relationship as negative ones. For example, "We laugh a lot;" not, "We never have any fun". A good marriage must have a rich climate of positivity. Make deposits to your emotional bank account. "
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