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Gottman, a clinical psychologist, has essentially distilled the art of love and war--a.k.a. marriage--into a kind of science. After 30 years of such studies inside his physiology lab, nicknamed the Love Lab, Gottman's group has developed a model that he claims can assess whether a couple are on a path to dysfunction. Now when Gottman wires up therapy clients and videotapes them, "in the first three minutes of the conflict discussion," he says, "we can predict if a couple is going to divorce." He and research partner Robert Levenson of the University of California, Berkeley, found that during arguments, couples in stable relationships have five times as many positive factors present as negative ones. "In relationships that were working, even during conflict, there was a rich climate of positive things, such as love, affection, interest in one another, humor and support. Couples in unstable unions had slightly more negative factors than positive."
Conflict is endemic in a relationship, Gottman says, but adds--with peculiar precision--that "only 31% of conflicts get resolved over the course of a marriage. The other 69% are perpetual, unsolvable problems." His insight: don't bother trying to fix the unfixable. Spend your energy on selecting a mate with whom you can manage those inevitable annoyances, then learn how to manage them. To admit some problems can't be solved is the first step toward finding a larger solution. Says Gottman: "We try to build up the couple's friendship, their ability to repair conflict and to deal with their gridlock."
The Gottman technique usually involves a $495 two-day workshop, followed by nine private therapy sessions costing $1,260, which Gottman recommends as a supplement. These attempt to conquer the four most common, corrosive negative factors in unstable unions: criticism (You never ... You always ... ), defensiveness (Who me? I'm not defensive), contempt (You're too stupid to realize how defensive you are) and stonewalling (I'll just let it blow over). Gottman says 85% of stonewallers are men.
Gottman fiercely protects the privacy of his patients and does not provide names of couples to be interviewed. He says his five-year follow-up study shows that after one year, about 75% of the treated couples are happier, "[though] we haven't been able to help the other 25% calm down. They stay irritable, cranky and contemptuous."
--LET'S GET SCHNARCHED!
That cranky quarter of the peace-seeking married contingent may find a sympathetic soul in David Schnarch, author of the book Passionate Marriage and creator of the Crucible Approach to marital therapy, which upends nearly all the conventional tenets of couples counseling. He says he is the therapist of last resort for many couples who go to his Marriage and Family Health Center in Evergreen, Colo., for an intensive four-day session: "The worse shape your marriage is in, the more this is the approach of choice." Nor does he recommend that a warring couple break up--that's just "one way therapists can bury their errors."