conflict resolution

Stop a Break up Before it Starts

Repost from November 2011

In a marriage it is said that a couple needs to give each other five times as many positive remarks and words of encouragement than negative ones if their relationships is to survive.

A famous study  conducted by John Gottman observed couples for just fifteen minutes. From that fifteen minutes of interaction from the couple the researcher was able to predict the probability of them staying married fifteen years later with 94% accuracy.

In fact, his studies went even farther. Suppose a couple is arguing. The wife condemns the husband for never helping her around the house. However, he states in his defense “did I not take out the trash for you just last night?”. She rolls her eyes and gives him no credit, but instead says “you were just trying to get me to shut up.” In this situation the man sought credit where he had made an honest effort to make amends. Unfortunately, her view of him was so negative that she saw even the good that he did as evil. Gottman suggested that once a couple reaches this point there is almost NO hope for their relationship.

Dr, Emerson, a Christian psychologist and relationship expert, wrote an entire book about the necessity for husbands to see the good in every action of their wives and for wives to respect the work of their husbands. His book Love and Respect illustrates with story after story the need for positive encouragement in a couple’s life in order for a happy relationship to exist.

The famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is full of stories of how people got what they wanted by looking to build up some one else rather than criticize.

He give one story where a wife asked her husband to tell him six things that she could improve on. He told her to let him think on it and he would tell her the next day. The husband of course thought of many things on which she could improve, but being quite wise he decided to do something different. He bought her six red roses instead and left her a not saying that there was nothing he would change about her. He loved he just the way she was. What do you think this did? It made her want to be a better wife than any amount of criticism would have ever done.

Criticism is hardly EVER the best way to get people to change.


In fact, even when someone does something wrong it is often better to look at the good intentions or good actions which accompanied the wrong one. Such encouragement makes people want to please you and give you the respect you want much more than putting them down will ever do.

Try it. If you are in a relationship just try saying only positive things about your partner for one week. See how they respond. Try it with your boss. Or your employees. Or students.

Ultimately you can’t always stop a break up. Sometimes you loose someone you love. Sometimes it hurts. When it comes to a long term relationship, compatibility is key. You can’t just expect things to work out with anyone because you work really hard at it. If you are so different from the beginning all you will be doing is post poning the inevitable. Learning to know the person before you love the person emotionally is helpful in avoiding this.

Same with friendships. Sometimes you just loose a friend and there is nothing you can do about it. Incompatible world views, marriage, odd ideas about opposite sex relationships, inability to control ones emotions, these all play a role in lost friendships. Conflict resolution can only go so far to repair these problems.

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3 thoughts on “Stop a Break up Before it Starts

  1. Interesting indeed! I’m personally NOT a big fan of the Dale Carnegie “carnage”. The book you mention above was used very frequently in the training of “aggressive” sale tactics and, in my humble opinion, brought to life a whole culture of people who wanted to learn how to “manipulate” others to get what they wanted out of them.

    I think that criticism is, in and of itself, not detrimental to a relationship. However, the grounds for criticizing, and how we criticize, can be legitimately called into question. There is also a time and a place to criticize.

    What’s more important, I think, is defining what it means to “be wrong”! Wrong in terms of what? In terms of how “I” think that you should behave? In terms of what “I” think your actions mean, regarding, whether you love me or not?

    Honest, humble, sincere, non-aggressive (that is to say, using terms, for e.g., from non-violent communication vocabulary, see: http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/aboutnvc/aboutnvc.htm) communication is key to any good relationship, regardless of who it is with: your partner, your parent, your children, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers!

    Glad to see that there are also men who bring up topics like this one, and with so much thoughtfulness! Great blog btw! 🙂

    1. I agree. One of the hardest things to learn is to see things through another person’s perspective. When we call someone else we are often simply saying that they are wrong. Based on our opinion. But from that perspective we may be the ones who are wrong. And they may be equally convinced

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