Let’s continue with Principle 4: Partner Influence. Studies show that “the happiest, most stable marriages, in the long run, were those in which the husband did not resist sharing power and decision-making with the wife. When the couples disagreed, these husbands actively searched for common ground rather than insisting on getting their way.” (pp.116/7) While these results primarily target husbands, it obviously goes both ways. When either partner is willing to accept their partner’s influence, it strengthens their friendship.
For whatever reason, cultural, social, or upbringing, (and he goes into some historical data explaining why) typically women tend to be more oriented toward discussing and understanding feelings than men. Historically men are expected to be in charge. So adapting to changing gender roles tends to bring up core issues in today’s relationships. The good news is that men seem to be more emotionally intelligent now than in previous decades.
Gottman goes on to say: “I believe the emotionally intelligent husband is the next step in social evolution,” which is basically learning “how to honor his wife and convey his respect for her. It is really that elementary.” (p. 124) Another plus is that husbands who can accept influence from their wives, tend to be outstanding fathers.
As in previous chapters, he has an “Accepting Influence Questionnaire”. The scoring is a bit different but a score of 6 or higher indicates power sharing is a strength in the relationship, while under 6 indicates the relationship probably could use some improvement. Below are two exercises aimed at helping couples move forward.
Exercise 1 – Yield to Win
Couples receive an outline of common situations they can face. Then, readers are asked to write down
- The request in a sentence (because sometimes the request is implied)
- What they could say to express their cooperation.
There are no “right” answers but Gottman does suggest effective responses at the end of the exercise. An important point here is to try and get a sense of the urgency of the issue rather than see it as an attack on you.
In real life, often the HOW something is said is more important than the WHAT. If it comes across as an attack it is obviously harder not to be defensive. Here is an example of a typical situation and his solution:
Principle 4: Exercises
Sometimes you make a bit of a mess in the living room when you get home from work, but you usually clean it up after dinner when you have more energy. One night, when you haven’t cleaned up, your wife says, “It really makes me mad the way you leave your stuff around. I’m tired too, and I wish I didn’t have to pick up after you. Why can’t you clean up before dinner?”
Reasonable part of wife’s request:
His suggested answer: Reasonable part of wife’s request: For you to clean up before dinner.
You say: “Sorry, okay I’ll clean up.” Then follow through.
Exercise 2: Island Survival Game
Let’s play a survival game. Your ship sank and your partner and yourself are stranded on a deserted island. A bunch of items from the sunken ship that can help you that washed up on shore. Unfortunately, you can only carry ten items. Each of you writes down on a separate piece of paper what you consider the ten most important items to keep from the inventory list that you are given, based on your survival plan. Then rank-order these items based on their importance to you.
Share the list with your partner and then together come up with a consensus list of ten items. At the end of the exercise, there is a scoring mechanism to evaluate how the game went, as far as accepting influence.
Principle 4: Accepting Influence
The importance of accepting influence helps in coping with marital conflict which will be the content of the next two principles. But before sharing the next two principles, he first explores the two categories marital conflicts tend to fall into.
- Those that can be resolved
- Those that are perpetual
This means they will be a part of your lives forever in some form or another.
Stay tuned for next week and we’ll dive into the Two Kinds of Marital Conflict.