A husband and wife sit together in silence. They are both thinking the same thing…

“How did we end up here?”

They look around the office. The wife notices beautiful artwork on the wall. She closes her eyes and pictures herself in the stillness. She remembers their honeymoon, anniversaries, birthdays, date nights and Christmas mornings by the fire. She remembers holding her daughter for the very first time and thinking nothing in the world is more perfect than this moment. Her husband sits on her left and notices many books on the shelf. He reads titles about marriage, about raising children. Books about love catch his eye and is quickly taken back to their first date and how they met. He thinks about their years of marriage; remembers vacations as a family and the memories captured by countless photos tucked into dozens of boxes and photo albums. They consider the legacy they will pass to their children and what life will be like after today. Without saying a word, they exchange wistful glances towards one another both wondering how their lives; their marriage has come to this.

The couple sips on their coffee and the silence is broken by a soft voice, “So what brings your here today?” They shift towards each other and eagerly ask, “We want to know if we can save our marriage.”

Most couples like the one above come into therapy wondering if this is really going to work. Some are desperate for answers. Some are so angry because of the hurt and pain that has been caused. Some are frozen in negativity and they see their children sufferinshutterstock_126065438g, but they believe staying married is the “best decision” for their children. Even still, a husband or wife will have the pen ready to sign the papers to end their marriage.

Over the decades of studying couple relationships, marriages and families – Dr. John Gottman came up with simple terms to describe happy, stable couples “The Masters” of relationships and unhappy couples, stable or unstable “The Disasters” of relationships. Below are different truths about what is “dysfunctional” when a relationship is failing.

  • There is more negativity than positivity
    • The difference between positive to negative affect (display of emotion) during conflict in a stable marriage is 5:1. With couples headed towards divorce, that ratio become 0:8:1 or less.

Imagine a salt shaker filled not with salt but with ways to say “yes!” Such as: “good point”; “I see”; “yes”; “that makes sense, tell me more”, “you’re starting to convince me”; “I never thought of it that way”; “Say more about how you feel and what you need”; and so on. Using statements like these make it easier to become a master. Conversely, imagine the shaker filled not with salt but ways to say “no!” Things like: “that’s ridiculous!”; “no”; “that is so stupid”; “you’re stupid”; “you’re making no sense”; “be logical”; “shut up!”; “stop talking”; “you’re an idiot”; “you’re a jerk”; “how can you be so insensitive?”; “you never have cared about me”; “you’re so selfish”; and so on. We all use this second shaker at times, but the disasters do it much more often.

The bottom line is that relationships have to have at least a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity during conflict. The relationship needs to much more positive than negative, even when you are disagreeing.

  • Turning against: Irritability, emotional disengagement, and withdrawal
    • Some couples do not escalate in conflict, however, there is little positivity at all during conflict (no affection, shared humor, question asking, active interest, excitement, joy, support, empathy). These couples divorced an average of 16.2 years after their wedding day. Individuals can respond for their partner’s bid for emotional connection in a crabby, irritable manner.
  • The failure of men to accept influence from their women
    • This comes in one of two patterns of rejecting influence:
      • Male emotional disengagement (which leads to mutual emotional disengagement)
      • Male escalation (belligerence, contempt, defensiveness) in response to their wives’ low-intensity negative affect (complaining).
    • This is not compliance (or weakness); it is lively give and take. To be powerful in a relationship we must be capable of accepting influence on some things our partner wants.

You deserve a happy marriage, however, are you willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill the plan God has for your marriage? Your children? Understanding just what not to do allows us to turn towards what to implement in our relationships. Of course, there is more to be discussed with this topic. Such as: What can I do to be a master? Maybe you are reading and think I would like to be more of a master, but all I see is disaster. You may be on the brink of ending your marriage… are you willing to do anything to save your marriage? Are you ready to become “a master?”


You have questions and I would love to answer any question you may have. You can do so by clicking here, contacting me directly by emailing logan@newhopecounseling.co, or by simply calling (317) 572-7411.


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