Psychological Self-Help

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giving empathy responses, overcoming being taken for granted,
avoiding manipulation and being driven crazy, changing the sex roles
of women and men, and reducing chauvinism in its many forms. There
is more we need to know about communicating specifically with our
spouse.  
Destructive communication in marriage
Communication is, of course, important in marriage. But,
communication includes every message--every feeling, every desire,
every thought that is conveyed to the other person. Some
communication is helpful, some is destructive. The most useful
knowledge is knowing how to avoid the unhappy, harmful interactions.
Seeing how happy and unhappy couples communicate differently
might help. Several researchers have studied this and summarized the
results (Brehm, 1985; Derlega, 1984; Gottman, 1979, 1994). 
Gottman says our stereotype of a happy marriage is a couple who
like each other, understand each other well, and settle disputes easily.
Yet, some stable marriages do not fit our stereotype: some are volatile
(fighting openly but making up passionately) and others carefully
avoid conflicts, i.e. they don't "work things out" but agree to disagree
(Gottman, 1994). Apparently happy couples have developed various
ways of handling the inevitable conflicts, unhappy couples haven't.
Unhappy couples first criticize the partner's behavior but that gradually
evolves into attacking his/her personality which eventually
degenerates into expressing abusive contempt. Naturally the attacked
partner becomes defensive, perhaps by saying "it's not my fault," by
feeling indignant and counter-attacking, or by completely withdrawing
emotionally (stonewalling). Both the attacks, usually by women, and
the defensive refusal to deal with the issues, usually by men, are big
parts of the problem. Men, in unhappy marriages especially, do not
listen to the verbal messages nor pick up on their wives' non-verbal
messages. Unhappy couples frequently just exchange hostile
accusations ("You don't care about me--only about yourself") whereas
happy couples may argue, even yell, but would then explore the topic
more ("Are you really as unconcerned with this problem as you
look?"), ending up resolving the difficulty. This is a summary: 
Poor communicators
Good communicators
A steady flow of criticism &
putdowns or blaming
Accentuate the positive and the hopes
for the future
Neither partner feels cared for and
listened to; too busy defending self
Both partners try to stay calm, see the
other's point, and show respect, look
for a compromise
Get off the topic, find no solutions
(throwing all kinds of complaints &
insults at the partner)
Stay on topic, be specific about the
problem rather than expressing
contempt, find a solution both can
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