Everybody seems to have some piece of marriage advice: don't go to bed angry, don't sweat the small stuff, and count to ten before you speak. Advice is great, especially when it works, but it can be exhausting trying to pick out the useful pieces of advice among all the counsel a couple can get.
Gottman and his colleagues studied 130 newlywed couples for six years in an effort to find ways to predict which kind of marriages succeeded and which failed.
The researchers found that men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce. Not only is this skill not reserved to heterosexual couples, the research showed that gay and lesbian couples are much better at it than straight couples.
"If you want to change marriages," Dr. Gottman 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. We found that only those newlywed men who are accepting of influence from their wives are ending up in happy, stable marriages."
Interestingly, the researchers didn't find much evidence of women failing to listen to their husbands.
The researchers surmised that men who resist their wives influence do so without even knowing it. Accepting influence is equally a mindset and a skill cultivated by paying attention to your spouse every day. And when conflict happens, the important thing to do is to understand where your partner is coming from and to be able to compromise.
The study said that it wasn't that marriage can't survive moments of anger, complaints or criticism and other human emotions; they can. Couples may find themselves in a bad place if they match negativity with negativity instead of working to de-escalate the conflict. For many men, the fallback response is to increase negativity during an argument.
The Four Horsemen — as Gottman calls criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling — are not only predictors of divorce but signs that a man is resisting his wife's influence.
"The only way to change marriage for the better is to improve the quality of friendship between a husband and wife and help them deal with disagreements differently," Gottman said. "There has to be a kind of gentleness in the way conflict is managed. Men have to be more accepting of a woman's position, and women have to be more gentle in starting up discussions."
The best strategy for a happy and rock solid marriage is to accept your partner's influence and, in addition, you'll also get more respect, power, and influence of your own.
Share the power — that's the best advice of all.