Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Building Friendship: Turning Toward One Another to Overcome Criticism and Defensiveness

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Building Friendship: Turning Toward One Another to Overcome Criticism and Defensiveness

"I find selfishness to be the root cause of most of [the problems that lead to broken homes]. I am satisfied that a happy marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one's companion." 

-Gordan B. Hinckley (Goddard, 2009, p. 62).

Link: Criticism
This week, we will be discussing how to overcome Gottman's "horseman" of criticism, which is where a person makes a personal attack against someone's character. This horseman is typically accompanied by defensiveness. Overcoming both of these horsemen, as well as contempt, will help to prevent the fourth horseman, stonewalling.

The antidote to criticism is a facet of friendship where the couple turns toward one another. What does this mean? Well, let's illustrate this through a short story told by H. Wallace Goddard, Ph.D., in his book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage: A young man was getting ready to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but his wife was adamantly against the idea. Every time the subject of this church or baptism was brought up, the wife became angry.

At his wit's end, the husband sought out counsel for what to do about loving his wife while also loving his choice of a church. The counsel he received was inspired: "Next time you and your wife begin to discuss your baptism and you start to feel anger and frustration, stop. Say no more for a moment. Then take your wife in your arms and hold her tight. Tell her that you love her, you appreciate her, and nothing will take her place in your life" (Goddard, 2009, p. 61).

Link: Tearful Embrace
The husband followed this counsel the next time he and his wife began to argue about the husband's imminent commitment to his newfound faith. What happened as a result? Both the husband and the wife wept tears of healing as they embraced one another. Then, they were able to peaceably discuss for several hours the husband's convictions and why he wanted to make this step in his life with his wife's support. Their love was able to overcome the desires of each party to win the argument (p. 61-62).

Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver emphasize the need for a couple to let each other know their commitment to one another. However, it is usually not through large gestures as illustrated in the previous story. Rather, it is in the small actions couples make to one another during everyday living. It is by the couple noticing bids for attention and then giving that needed attention to one another (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 88). Bids for attention may be when your spouse asks you for assistance with a project, giving each other a kiss goodbye when parting and kissing when brought together again, when your spouse complains of an aching back (code for, "Will your rub my back, please?"), when they ask you to pick up something for them from the store, or when they come up behind you and put their arms around you (code for: "I want your attention right now, Hot Stuff."). Dr. John Gottman discovered that successful couples pick up on their spouse's cues for attention about 86% of the time (p.88). This means that it's normal for some bids to slip through the cracks because you simply didn't notice them. However, the more often you can pick up on your spouse's bids and do something about them, the better.

"Couples often ignore each other's emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice."
-Dr. John Gottman (p. 94).

Some people worry that by giving someone attention when those bids are made will cause the other person to become spoiled. This simply isn't true in a marriage. In fact, the one person in your life you should be spoiling with your attention is your spouse. The "tendency to turn toward your partner is the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion, and a satisfying sex life" (p. 88). 

“Up to now, your first question has naturally been 'what is best for me'—how to use your time, money, school, work, whatever. But after your wedding, the biggest question is, 'What is best for our marriage, our family?' And that is a very hard thing to learn. . .Don’t expect immediate perfection—in him, in marriage, in the relationship . . . it takes time to grow into a whole new way of living”  -Bruce C. Hafen

Link: piggy-bank-in-love.jpg
Each time a couple turns toward one other, they are making deposits into what Gottman and Silver call the "emotional bank account". These deposits are like the money in a savings account that is set aside specifically for when times get hard, as they always do. The more deposits you make, the easier time you will have to make it through the hard times. See this link for ideas on how to do that.

Obstacles to turning toward one another:
  • You miss a bid because it is cloaked in negativity (p. 91). Example: 

Wife [very annoyed]: "Why is it that Stephanie's husband seems to understand that you should wait to give a person their gift ON their special day, not BEFORE?" 

To overcome bids like this, try to repeat back what you think the bid is translating into (without judgment or anger). Say: "I think what you are saying is that you would like for me to wait to give you your special present on your birthday. Is this correct?" 
If it isn't quite right, try to interpret the thought again and keep your voice neutral when you make your next guess. If you still don't understand, ask the person, calmly, to clarify what they are saying to you. Then repeat back what your spouse says to you. This may sound a little overly complicated, but it is important to realize that neither one of you can read each other's mind. Asking for clarity prevents misunderstandings.
  • Link: Proverbs 15:1
  • Second Obstacle: Being distracted by the wired world (p. 92). Set aside your electronic devices when your spouse is making a bid for your attention.

Link: Look at me!

Exercise 2 for turning toward one another and chasing away criticism and defensiveness: Have a stress-reducing conversation (p. 97).
  • Take turns. Each partner gets to complain for 15 minutes uninterrupted.
  • Show genuine interest. I know, this one can be tough, particularly if she is talking about the mishap at her hairdresser's or he is talking about basketball for the umpteenth time this week. However, it still conveys respect to maintain eye contact, ask clarifying questions, nod, say "uh-huh," etc. 
  • Don't give unsolicited advice.
    Link: Fix it? Don't fix it.
    Ooo! Another tough one, especially for men (women will be tempted to do this at times too)! My husband is a "fixer" by nature, so it has been especially difficult for him to learn that when I complain, it's usually because I want a "Poor baby!" sort of response (p.100). I want him to take my side of the matter, even if it's dumb. My husband sometimes calls this the "small circles" attention, which is where a person in emotional pain just wants someone to sit next to them, gently rub their back in a small, circular pattern (hence, the "small circles"), and allow them to talk about their troubles without judgment (I personally love physical contact, so the "small circles" approach works very well for me).
    There have been many times, particularly in the first several years of our marriage, where my husband gave advice when I haven't asked for it and it led to many arguments because I felt disrespected and felt like my intelligence was being called into question. It has taken years of warning my husband before I make a complaint that I am about to vent and that what I want him to do in order to "fix" my problem is to simply show genuine interest in what I have to say and not give any advice unless I specifically ask for it. He is also allowed to ask clarifying questions. My husband is now to the point where I no longer need to give him this full reminder. I simply have to warn him that I need to vent and he does the rest on his own. It's pretty great! 
  • Empathize: 
    Link: Empathy Phrases


The last bit of advice for this week:
Pray together! "When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities. We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives." 

-Ezra Taft Benson (Goddard, 2009, p. 57)



Goddard, H.W., PhD (2009). Drawing heaven into your marriage. Cedar Hills, UT: Joymap Publishing.

Gottman, J.M, PhD, & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Harmony Books.

Hafen, B.C. (2013). Covenant marriage: Why marriage matters and how to make it last. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Building Friendship in Marriage: Conquering Contempt

Link: Jeffrey R. Holland Quote
 Building Friendship in Marriage: Conquering Contempt

“Companionship in marriage is prone to become commonplace and even dull. I know of no more certain way to keep it on a lofty and inspiring plane than for a man occasionally to reflect upon the fact that the helpmeet who stands at his side is a daughter of God, engaged with [God] in the great creative process of bringing to pass His eternal purposes. I know of no more effective way for a woman to keep ever radiant the love for her husband than for her to look for and emphasize the godly qualities that are a part of every son of our Father and that can be evoked when there is respect and admiration and encouragement. The very processes of such actions will cultivate a constantly rewarding appreciation for one another.” 
  - Elder Gordon B. Hinckley
  Marriage & Family Relations: Participant Study Guide, p. 24
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Link: Contempt
Last week, we discussed the need for building the friendship in your marriage and began building your awareness of Dr. John Gottman's "four horsemen of the apocalypse": criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. This week, I will share with you the antidote to the "horseman" of contempt, which, if you recall, is the horseman where one spouse holds the other spouse in low regard and disrespects them. It is also the horseman that Gottman and Silver discovered that the immune system of the person held in contempt is compromised and they often become sick (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 36).

 "Ninety-four percent of the time, couples who put a positive spin on their marriage's history and their partner's character are likely to have a happy future as well. When happy memories are distorted, it's a sign that the marriage needs help" (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 70).
The antidote for the person who is using the horseman of contempt is to consistently consider the qualities they admire in their spouse. They need to foster love and admiration for them. Maximize the positives and minimize the negatives. Doing these things will kill your desire to
disrespect and degrade your spouse (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 79).

How to foster love and admiration: 
  • Focus on noticing things that your spouse does that you admire. 
  • “Don’t expect immediate perfection—in him, in marriage, in the relationship . . . it takes time to grow into a whole new way of living” (Hafen, 2013, p. 73).
  • Look for things that you could sincerely compliment or express appreciation for about your spouse. Try to voice those compliments and gratitudes at least twice per day and watch your spouse blossom!
  • When giving a compliment, be specific, please. "You're so awesome!" is a good compliment, but it won't cut it on its own. For instance, what you might say to a person who is well organized is, "You're so good at making schedules and sticking to them! You're awesome!" Notice that, "You're awesome!" punctuates the compliment. It is not the compliment itself. The more specific you are with your compliments and expressions of appreciation, the more sincere it will sound.

Link: gratitude_thankyou.jpg

“Avoid ‘ceaseless pinpricking.’ Don’t be too critical of each other’s faults. Recognize that none of us is perfect. We all have a long way to go to become as Christlike as our leaders have urged us to become.

“ ‘Ceaseless pinpricking,’ as President Spencer W. Kimball called it, can deflate almost any marriage. … Generally each of us is painfully aware of our weaknesses, and we don’t need frequent reminders. Few people have ever changed for the better as a result of constant criticism or nagging. If we are not careful, some of what we offer as constructive criticism is actually destructive.”  
  - Elder Joe J. Christensen
Marriage and Family Relations Participant’s Study Guide, p. 19
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Become familiar with the intimate details of each other's lives. The tastes and worries of your spouse are always changing. It's great to keep up-to-date on all of those little details. Talk about things like:
  • likes and dislikes 
  • friends you have and why
  • personal triumphs and successes achieved together as a couple
  • healing from past injuries (mental, emotional, physical) 
  • dreams for the future
  • your passions 
  • your first date and your impressions of one another 
  • highlights from your life (personally or as a couple).  
  • (see this link for more topic ideas to discuss)
When discussing these things, focus on learning these things without judgment. This is a fact-finding mission only designed to help you feel closer to one another.


Link: Date-Night-Jar-Craft
Something that will boost your ability to nurture your friendship and courtship is to set aside a time at least once a week where you and your spouse can spend time together to talk and have fun together (Date night! Yahoo!). Not everybody can afford to go on expensive date nights, but you don't have to spend a lot of money, if any, to have good, quality time together. A couple of frugal ideas for dates that will allow you to talk and nurture your friendship is to go on a walk together, go to a quiet restaurant, or go shopping together. My husband and I like to do window shopping at furniture stores or home improvement stores once in a while for a date. We have discovered that it really helps us to talk about our dreams for the future and what we want our dream home to look like. We also don't have to pay a dime other than in gas and maybe a dessert to share.

For larger image, click this link: CBT Mood Log
If you or your spouse are having trouble overcoming the cycle of negative thinking, it is okay to seek the advice of a counselor. It would be especially helpful if you can find one that is well-versed in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a therapy that helps a person to recognize and isolate negative thoughts, recognize how those thoughts are distorted from reality, and how to challenge those thoughts with positive thoughts that are 100% true and show the negative thought for what it truly is--a lie. This therapy even has applications for those who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. In fact, studies are showing CBT to be more effective than medication, psychotherapy, and both of these combined (Burns, 2006, p. 3). I have used this therapy myself when I was suffering from the negative thought cycle of depression and it is AMAZING!

So, if you are having extra trouble breaking your negative thought patterns about your spouse, I highly recommend that you go to a professional to teach you this technique or you can read about it in these two books which are by Dr. David D. Burns, M.D.: When Panic Attacks and Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Getting your thoughts on track will not only lead to a more satisfying relationship in your marriage but a more satisfying life as well.


Burns, D.D., M.D. (2006). When panic attacks. New York: Morgan Road Books.
Gottman, J. M., Ph.D., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Harmony Books.

Hafen, B. C. (2013). Covenant marriage: Why marriage matters and how to make it last. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.