Ah, America. January 1 rolls around without worldwide computer meltdown (just
somewhere in Maine, where owners of 2000-model cars and trucks evidently received
titles identifying their vehicles as "horseless carriages"). And all the
followup news stories are about how we're griping that we spent all that money
and nothing went wrong?!
Am I missing something? Doesn't that mean we, like, succeeded? Sure, maybe
we could have allocated a few more resources to dismantling Jennifer Lopez's
attachment to Puff Daddy, but still. Can't win.
My followup news story, however, is this: turns out that when it comes
to bugs in our relationships, we may indeed be throwing a lot of unnecessary
reprogramming in the wrong place. The latest research and I thus bring you:
Are You Two Y2K-Compatible?
Putting the "MM" in MMMMarriage.
Hey, remember when I told you you didn't have to forgive?
You thought that was ultra-post-modern? Now I'm here to tell you you
don't have to resolve conflict. In fact, "conflict resolution" is
becoming today's "horseless carriage" of marriage. Ooold-fashioned.
The latest bottom line -- according to Ted Houston, Ph.D. of UT/Austin and John
Gottman, Ph.D. of UWash/Seattle, who do actual science-lab research on couples
-- there's more to making things work than working things out. From what these
guys have observed, preserving relationships is less about whether or not you
actually solve problems and more about how you treat each other in the
process of trying to. This does not mean that you must invoke gimmicks from
the 1900s like "active listening," where you each repeat the other's
emotional reporting so that everyone feels validated (which has been known to
devolve into: "I hear that you ... sound ridiculous."). Rather, says
Gottman, you should endeavor to avoid what he's fittingly called The Four Horsemen
of the Apocalypse: Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Basically:
say why you're mad, sure. But try not to get mean and attack character; try
not to let your inner pouter say "Did not!" or "LALALALA I'M
Bicker though you may, try and create what Gottman calls a meta- "culture
of appreciation" in your partnership: perform random acts of kissing, whisper
sweet nothings ... heck, tell them to the world. This is the most of the "more
to making things work" thing. Houston backs him up, noting that in his
own research, it's not conflict, but rather the "loss of initial levels
of love and affection" that's more likely to lead to unhappiness or divorce:
"The dominant culture has been to work with couples to resolve conflict,
but it should focus on preserving the positive feelings" (Jan/Feb 2000
So I'm tickled to say that the only mention of explosives at this less-portentous-than-the-hype
time is a metaphorical one: always remember Breakup Girl's bottom line for acceptable
-- to say nothing of joyful -- relationships: Does s/he think
you're the bomb? Do you think the same of him/her? Do you fight/act/adore
accordingly? Start there for a 2000-model marriage.
Further reading: January/February 2000 Psychology
Today, January/February 2000 Men's Health,
and this letter.
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