Many of us are familiar with marriage expert Professor John Gottman‘s claim that he can predict whether a couple will divorce just moments after meeting them – with 94% accuracy. The tell is whether the couple displays contempt for one another. That statistic came out of a six-year longitudinal study of 130 newlywed couples. The research effort sought to determine what factors or behaviors predict divorce vs. marital stability.
Gottman et all found that various kinds of negativity, known as the Four Horsemen, were highly predictive of divorce. But they also found several positive behaviors that predicted happy marriages. In fact, all of the happily married couples in the study shared one dynamic in particular.
In every happily married couple an emotionally intelligent husband was accepting of being influenced by his wife during times of conflict. The researchers defined the willingness to be influenced as “finding something reasonable in a partner’s complaint to agree with.”
Usually, couples deal with conflict or complaints this way:
- The wife brings marital issues to the table for discussion.
- She has made a detailed analysis of the conditions in which the problem occurs.
- She shares the history of the problem.
- She offers suggestions for a solution.
Gottman found that women who approach complaints in a gentle, soothing and even humorous way were most effective in gaining influence over their husbands. But he also found that only 35% of the men met the standard for emotional intelligence. 65% of the men increased negativity during a conflict. In contrast, Gottman found that even women in unhappy marriages were willing to take their husband’s opinions and feelings into account. From the LA Times:
“If you want to change marriages,” he said, “you have to talk about the ’emotionally intelligent’ husband. Some men are really good at accepting a wife’s influence, at finding something reasonable in a partner’s complaint to agree with.” That group represents perhaps a third of all men, he added.
“Another group just rejects all attempts at influence. That’s very characteristic of violent men,” he said, but a majority of men do it to some extent. “They feel, ‘If I give in on this, I’m going to lose everything. I’m going to be totally manipulated and controlled.’ “
The majority of the men studied rejected attempts at influence, which Gottman ascribes to the fear of loss of power. As a result, their wives were more likely to approach conflict with belligerence, another predictor of poor outcomes.
“Only women who are able to soften their start-up of conflict wind up in happy and stable marriages.”
Those marriages where men were unwilling to share power had a divorce rate of 81%.
“We found that only those newlywed men who are accepting of influence from their wives are ending up in happy, stable marriages,” Gottman said. The autocrats who failed to listen to their wives’ complaints, greeting them with stonewalling, contempt and belligerence, were doomed from the beginning, they found.
Gottman believes that biological sex differences play a role beginning in childhood:
This starts in childhood. When boys play games, their focus is on winning, not their emotions or the others playing. If one of the boys get hurt, he gets ignored. After all, “the game must go on.”
With girls, feelings are often the first priority. When a tearful girl says, “we’re not friends anymore,” the game stops and only starts again if the girls make up…Dr. Gottman explains, “the truth is that ‘girlish’ games offer far better preparation for marriage and family life because they focus on relationships.”
In summary, Gottman says that “the emotionally intelligent man picks “we” over “me.”
“Because this man is deeply connected to his wife, she will go to him when she is stressed, upset, and overjoyed. She’ll even go to him when she is aroused.”
This last claim is in stark contrast with the common misperception by men that women want dominant males. Women do want socially dominant males – that is, men who compete successfully against other men. They do not want men who dominate them. In this era of the “love match,” (rather than the economic transaction match), women choose egalitarian partners.
Indeed, Gottman et al found common traits among men resistant to being influenced by their wives. They were:
- More hostile and suspicious
- More likely to smoke
- More likely to use cocaine
- Making all major family decisions
- Had suffered financial or emotional hardships
- Physically shorter
- More active in one-on-one competitive sports
This is not the profile of good husband material!
Correlation is not causation, yadda yadda yadda. I suspect the people in unhappy marriages selected for these dysfunctional traits in a partner, consciously or unconsciously.
From a strategic perspective, identifying emotional intelligence in men is critically important while dating. Does he listen to you? Is he able to consider your viewpoint and admit when he’s in the wrong? Or does he expect to be in charge? Does he demand honor and respect without reciprocating?
Make sure you select a man who thrives at dominating other men rather than his wife. The man most wary of being manipulated and controlled by a woman is the most likely to dismiss her concerns and opt for rigid control himself.