Friday, July 18, 2008

Facing our Differences

There's an excellent new post by Sharon Hodde in her blog 'She Worships' on "Irreconcilable Differences." Sharon discusses some findings by psychologist Dr. John Gottman who carried out a very interesting study on marriage. Gottman videotaped a number of newlyweds discussing an issue on which they disagree, and years later looked at which ones were still married versus those that were divorced. He looked for differences in how the two groups intereacted in the videos. There was in fact one characteristic that was quite common among those who marriages were doomed.

Marriages that don't last are characterized by an element of contempt or aggression when the couples disagree. In contrast, couples whose marriage continued over the long term were able to carefully listen to each other and avoid any kind of tearing down. They would usually have five positive things to say for every negative comment in the course of the disagreement.

This study emphasizes what our small group has been learning in our current study of a book called "A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage" by Stanley, Trathen, McCain and Bryan. This book was borne out of research that intitially sought to find the elements or characteristics present in successful marriages. They found little directly in common - there are a number of ways for a marriage to work. However, they found that there were really just a small number of factors present in most marriages that did not work out. Key among these is the (in)ability to... fight fair. The focus of the book then is a set of practical discussions and examples of how to more effectively communicate in marriage - especially when there are strong disagreements.

I was impressed by how Sharon in her article was able to apply this study to singles as well as married couples:
"So whether or not you are married, we all need to cultivate the art of loving disagreement. This does not mean compromising ourselves, but it does mean that we convey respect and care amidst our irreconcilable differences. When we do this, we increase the likelihood that others will actually listen, and we might learn a thing or two as well.
   I have heard it said that Christians never impose their beliefs on others--they simply propose, as a lover to the beloved. If that is our model for evangelism, then the keys to a healthy marriage have implications for us all."

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