When I first started writing about marriage a few weeks ago, I promised that I wasn’t an expert. Those of you that have been reading my stuff now know that my promises are true. You know that I like to wax poetic about the marital relationship and that I say lofty ambiguous things about the one and marital friendship and stuff. You know that if I’m an expert at anything, it’s missing deadlines.
But that’s not fair to you or to me. It’s not fair to you because you deserve more than nice-sounding concepts. It’s not fair to me because I actually do know some stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time studying what makes marriage work. My marriage in particular, but also marriage in general. I completed my graduate internship with the Relationship Research Institute (RRI), which is the non-profit research arm of The Gottman Relationship Institute.
John Gottman is a real expert. If you care about your marriage, or marriage in general, become familiar with Gottman’s work. This man who has studied relationships for over 30 years. When he says “this is what makes marriage work” it’s kind of like when your dad’s best friend, who is also a mechanic says, “this is how your car works”. So, in an effort to increase my credibility as a marriage-opinion-haver, here are some practical (i.e. not ambiguous or lofty) things you should consider.
- 2/3 of your problems are “perpetual problems”, which is to say, they are unsolvable. This is an observable fact. Given that it’s a fact, you have a few options. You can (a) be overwhelmed and discouraged by the notion that your doomed to conflict or (b) focus on minimizing the pain of 2/3 of your issues and working hard on the rest.
- Sometimes, it is literally impossible to not let the sun go down while you are still angry. When you’re angry. Really angry, you can get flooded. Biologically, that means your heart rate has reached 95-100 beats per minute. More simply, you’re really, really pissed off. At that point, what you really need is to call a time-out. Take a walk, a nap, a chill pill. Let the sun go down on your anger.
- The best way to prevent the end of a marriage is keep running. Given the stuff I wrote about running, let me qualify: Sometimes running is truly incredible. As in, heavenly. Running can be an amazing gift to your body, mind and soul. But it takes discipline. But, rather than continue to wax poetic, let me offer this discipline from the expert, John Gottman. He cals it the Magic Five Hours:
- Parting: Before leaving for work, find out one thing planned in the other’s day, from a lunch with the boss, to a phone call to an old friend. (2 minutes a day, 5 days a week = 10 minutes)
- Reunion: Have some stress-reducing conversation about the happenings of the day. (20 minutes a day, 5 days a week = I hour 40 minutes)
- Admiration and Appreciation: Find some way every day to communicate appreciation toward your spouse. (5 minutes a day, 7 days a week = 35 minutes)
- Affection: Find some way to show affection to your spouse, through hug, touch, kiss, kind word, kind look, or kind smile. (5 minutes a day, 7 days a week = 35 minutes)
- Weekly date: Chatting is a relaxing, low pressure way to connect. Any topic is fine. (2 hours)
That’s it. Five hours a week can dramatically improve your marriage. That’s a fact. So, for those of you looking for practical advice. Commit yourself – practically – to the magic five hours.
And if you can’t find the time or energy, just keep running…and also buy (and read) this book. Especially if you’re in the market for some real expertise.