Marriage expert John Gottman was once asked for his top piece of advice to married couples. His answer? The most important thing for the success of a marriage is for partners to not avoid discussions with each other – even when those discussions seem too tough. And that’s the subject that Dr. John Buri, professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas and author of How to Love Your Wife, addresses this week in his Psychology Today blog.
In a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, a sample of over 3,500 married men and women were asked about their method for resolving differences in their marriage. Approximately 25 percent of the women acknowledged that they typically bottled up their feelings instead of expressing them to their husband.
Buri looks at the issue from the dual perspectives of physical and emotional health. The same men and women from the study just mentioned were followed for 10 years, and the women who tended to bottle up their feelings were FOUR TIMES more likely to die of coronary heart disease than the women who freely discussed their concerns with their husbands.
As far as the emotional health of a marriage is concerned, bottling things up often leads to devastating consequences for relationships. “In the short run, when wives keep quiet about communication patterns, work done around the house, the quality of the relationship, the amount of time spent together, things that her husband could improve on, what could be done to make the marriage better, the marriage looks like it is in pretty good shape (sort of like the fake façade on a movie set),” says Buri. “That is in the short run – for the first 2 or 3 years. But in the long run (within 4 or 5 years), such marriages do not fare very well. Both in terms of stability and satisfaction, silencing the self contributes to the demise of a marriage.”
So what can be done to help facilitate better communication? Buri says that a lot of it depends on a shift in male attitudes. For one thing, men need to stop avoiding such discussions with their wives. Buri says that women produce most of the maintenance, nurturing and insights required for a relationship to keep moving, but men sometimes discourage their partners from sharing their feelings. “[Women] tend to know how to make relationships work, how to build connections, how to sustain harmony, how to facilitate intimacy – all of which are key elements in successful marriages,” he says.
So men need to stop rolling their eyes and turning up the volume on the TV, and women need to make themselves heard without turning every issue into an argument. That doesn’t sound easy if it’s been the established pattern in your relationship for years and years, but – given the mental and physical health benefits – it’s certainly worth trying.
Written by Sarah Treleaven