Here’s another nugget from John Gottman, courtesy of the Alabama Healthy Marriage Initiative. This piece discusses the specific types of connections we make with our spouses, how some are positive and some are negative. Mastering the art of opening positive connections–leaning in versus leaning away–with your spouse invites a warm, open relationship in which conflicts heal quickly and intimacy is part of everyday life.
The story many of us tell ourselves is that our marriages are imperfect, that they are what they are, and there’s no point in trying to re-build them. But what we also see are research reports, by Gottman and others, that suggest practical techniques for improving our relationships. That yours, and mine, is imperfect is due to the fact that each of us is imperfect. We are all sinners. And, therefore, it’s not so much about finding the right person as it is being the right person. If our marriage appears to be failing, we will be taking some of the reason for that with us in the pursuit of a new, improved marriage. Logic dictates that even in the unlikely event that Spouse #2 were, in fact, perfect, it would bode poorly for the success of the relationship.
Marriage literature suggests that most marriages go through three distinct stages. Euphoria, that unmatched feeling early in the relationship when it seems the sun, the moon and the stars rotate around your intended spouse. Disillusionment, when you realize the natural order of the universe and where exactly you and your spouse, and probably children, fit in it. And, finally, That Third Stage, in which the partners either don’t work it out, manage some kind of peaceful coexistence, or, at best, feed and maintain a relationship built upon respect, trust and intimacy, both emotional and physical, and thank God for that person, for the loaning of your partner’s spirit, if only for a short time, that is at the core of sacramental marriage.
The practice of leaning into your spouse when discussing important issues is what the Masters of Marriage do. It allows couples to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise in marriage quickly and without any need for retribution. It is a skill, and can be developed by anyone ready and willing to try to improve their marriage. The story we need to be telling ourselves is that we can improve our marriage if we want to and if we enlist the help of The Holy Spirit. As Nancy constantly reminds me, “The door is open.”