By Seth Eisenberg
John Gottman, Ph.D., the world’s leading marriage researcher, names it as the first of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” In this month’s Psychology Today, John Buri, Ph.D., says it’s how we sabotage love and marriage.
“If you want to destroy your marriage with one fell swoop – cheat. If you want to slowly bludgeon your marriage to death – criticize,” Dr. Buri writes.
“Why do so many people express a desire for a loving, healthy relationship, but then engage in behaviors that are sure to prevent from happening the very thing that is desired,” he asks rhetorically?
Experience with thousands of couples in every conceivable stage of relationship invites an answer:
More specifically, the absence of skills.
With the best of intentions, men and women typically do what they know when it comes to love and intimacy. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that so many couples who fall in love find themselves in a difficult place months or years later.
Where were they supposed to learn skills to sustain loving, healthy relationships? As the fireworks and chemistry of passion subside, couples predictably relax into the habits they picked up from their own parents. If both partners grew up with parents who modeled skills to sustain loving, healthy relationships, they’ve got a great shot at also achieving marital bliss.
But today, more often than not, that’s not the case. Many adults grew up with parents who weren’t happily married, regardless of the glue that may have kept them together. Many others grew up with no model at all, often as a result of divorce, sometimes because of death.
Nearly 75 percent of couples who participate in just nine hours of marriage education are happier and closer six months later than they were before their training. That’s not because instructors have magic wands. In fact, the primary role of a great facilitator is to inspire couples to learn and grow with each other. Marriage education programs that work are about empowering couples with skills to fulfill their own dreams and vision.
My stepfather, a retired Rabbi, spoke years ago about the frustration he felt when couples he’d married returned to him for counsel and advice. “If I could save one or two out of fifty,” he said, “that was good. I simply did not have the skills.”
Today’s leading marriage education programs deliver practical, usable skills that have been researched, refined, and widely proven to contribute to deeper experiences of love and intimacy.
With good will, those skills go a long way to helping men and women navigate the very normal challenges and miraculous opportunities of intimacy.
And with so much at stake in terms of health, wealth and happiness — investing the equivalent of a fraction of a day in a skills-based program will be one of the smartest decisions you’ll ever make.
For an example of one of the first skills couples learn in marriage classes, check out the Daily Temperature Reading. If you’re wondering if there’s potential to strengthen your marriage, try the one-minute Pleasure Scale to check the pulse of your relationship.
Seth Eisenberg is President and CEO of PAIRS Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest relationship skills training programs.