I recently read an article, Masters of Love by Emily Esfahani Smith. The article was an interview with John Gottman comparing his research on the couples labeled as masters or disasters. Masters were defined as couples who reported marital satisfaction after five years while “disasters” were couples who reported chronic breakups or unhappiness in their marriages.
The Masters showed a willingness to accept “bids,” from each other. Bids are described as invitations/opportunities to engage in conversations. The Disasters are couples who are stuck in “fight or flight” responses to bids for conversations. These couples respond to conversations through the lens of attacking or being attacked. Physiological arousals such as increased heart rates, blood, flow, or sweating occurred even when discussing nonthreatening subjects. Couples would comment only minimally or continue reading a magazine or watch T.V. rather than engaging in conversations with his/her spouse. I believe that the article is informative and helpful.
I (Ron Hitchcock) have had a lot of success at helping couples move out of the “disaster” (fight or flight responses) by introducing them to the characteristic of humility. In my opinion, humility is the most attractive characteristic in a marriage relationship. The type of humility that I am suggesting is only partially represented in Miriam Webster’s Dictionary – Humility is the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people: the quality or state of being humble. This type of humility (acts of kindness or good deeds are helpful in relationships but falls short of what true humility is able to accomplish between husbands and wives.
A true or biblical picture of humility allows couples to overcome fight or flight. The biblical view of humility is a divine attribute that seeks out the best interest of another person. This can only be achieved by seeking God on behalf of the other person such as, “Father, help me to know what you are doing in my spouse so that I can participate in your plan for his or her life.” Spouses who serve each other out of an understanding of God’s activity in their lives will be looked at as being humble. For example, my wife’s mom was in need of financial assistance. My wife asked, “How much should we send my mom?” I said, “I believe that this decision is between you and God.” I wanted her to pray and let me know what she felt was an appropriate amount of money to send. When she told me the amount we prayed and I supported her decision.
I believe that humility is at the core of relationships that report marital satisfaction. When couples know that his/her spouse is praying and supporting what God is doing in their lives, humility is at the core of their relationships. Couples will be able to move beyond fight or flight by being blessed with humbles spouses.