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Why There Is Hope


Why There Is Hope

Michael Basta

I read this article recently in the New York Times called "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person" and I had two responses. First, I was reminded of when I heard the great family therapist, Dr. Salvador Minuchin, say "every marriage is a mistake". My response then was "how pessimistic!". Alain de Botton, the writer of the aforementioned New York Times article is very clear about having a pessimistic frame of reference regarding choice of partners, and who could argue with him or the numbers when you look at the high divorce rates in developed countries?

However, my second response is different, but not wholly inconsistent with Minuchin and de Botton. Dr. John Gottman's research revealed that 69% of the problems that a couple will face are perpetual, meaning that there is no simple solution to the problems and they are destined to keep coming back, like tennis elbow or irritable bowel syndrome. Gottman theorized that these perpetual problems are based in personality differences (such as one parnter wanting to be punctual and the other being less concerned with time, one partner wanting to save money while the other wants to "live for now", or one partner needing close connection while the other prefers more distance in the relationship).

On the surface, Gottman sounds pessimistic as well. However, he notes that most of the "perpetual problems" that he observed in his research are managed well by couples who accept these differences. Moreover, he notes that the way that couples stay out of "gridlock" is by staying in dialogue regarding their perpetual problems. He and his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, believe that there is "an important life dream behind" each partner's position in a gridlocked perpetual issue and that dialogue rather than persuasion is the way out of the gridlock (and towards greater intimacy).  In other words, if a couple finds that they are perpetually stuck in the same argument, rather than trying to persuade each other that their way is right, a workable (although tentative) compromise is more likely to happen if the partners listen to each other with curiosity and do their best to try to understand what dreams and values underlie each partner's position on the issue. 

Michael Basta, LCSW, Gottman Method Couples Therapist