According to the article Can This Marriage Be Saved? sixty-nine percent of marital conflicts are never resolved. Sixty-nine percent! This is an alarmingly high number, and it sheds some light on why forty to fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. But the question still remains: why are all of these marital conflicts not being resolved?
Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist quoted in Can This Marriage Be Saved?, attributed unresolved conflicts to communication, or lack thereof. Dr. Gottman states that couples who resolve arguments tend to communicate nicely. They deliver their complaints with less of a blow (think flyweight boxing verses heavyweight). Meanwhile, couples who don’t communicate never resolve their discrepancies, thus leading to the eventual demise of the relationship.
While Dr. Gottman clearly pinpoints the main ingredient (communication) for relationship longevity, I felt it needed to be expanded. Why, exactly, are these couples not communicating? How are they fighting so that nothing is being resolved?
I took to the streets, pen in hand (and depending on the neighborhood, mace can in my other hand) and began surveying married couples. The question posed: when you and your spouse fight, how does he (or she) act?
A surprising discovery was not simply the lack of communication. Most did indeed communicate. However, they all had unique fighting styles. The categories are listed below.
The Convincers – also known as Verbal Gymnasts, the Convincers have the innate ability to convince you that you’re the one who is wrong. They stop at nothing to convince you, so arguments generally last for hours. Whether it is pure exhaustion – or they are finally persuaded – spouses of Convincers usually throw in the towel and eventually declare they were wrong.
The Clammer Uppers – these spouses stop talking because they are so overwhelmed with emotions they simply shut down. (Or they fear saying something they will really regret.) Some people call this “the silent treatment.” Did she hear you apologize? Your guess is as good as mine, because if she did hear you, you would never know. Convincers love Clammer Uppers because they can continue to convince with no interruptions.
Taker Offers – similar to the Clammer Uppers but with more energy. The Taker Offers will physically leave the premises of the fight. This may mean storming out of the house or restaurant. If enclosed in a car, Taker Offers have been known to shove the offending person out of the car and drive off, leaving the spouse stranded.
Reactors – you’re mad because she’s mad.
“Now I’m in a bad mood too. Here I was, just watching the game and enjoying my beer, but now it’s ruined because you’re mad at me again.”
The mood of Reactors seems to be contingent upon the mood of the spouse.
Directors – tell their spouse what she or he needs to do to end the fight. Apology insincere? Who cares! Fight is over! Let’s go out for dinner already! Convincers and Directors could NEVER be married to one another. The Convincer would be too busy trying to convince the Director, while the Director would be too busy telling the Convincer what he needs to do in order to conclude the argument.
Moper – a personification of Eeyore, the Moper will throw the biggest pity party of the century. The Moper has a fighting style similar to that of the Convincer, but much more pathetic.
“I know I forgot your birthday again. I’m so dumb. I’m the worst husband ever. You should never have married me. Other husbands would have remembered your birthday. You can go marry them. I deserve it.”
Mopers and Directors make great couples. A Director would simply tell the Moper what needs to be done to soothe things over.
“You’re right! I should go out and marry someone else. Now, let’s go shoe shopping because you’re buying me five pairs of shoes and you’re going to love every second of it. Got it?”
Conversely, Mopers and Reactors would never make it. Once the Moper turned all mopey, so would the Reactor.
“You’re right. You are so dumb for forgetting my birthday again. And I’m dumb for marrying you. We’re both two dumb people. And now I’m too depressed to go find another husband.”
The last fighting style identified was the Rehasher. During an argument, a Rehasher will suddenly bring up issues (issues you thought were resolved) from the past. Similar to Mohammad Ali’s famous phantom punch that abruptly ended the boxing match with Sonny Liston by knock out, the Rehasher will verbally strike their unknowing spouse, leaving them stunned. Bewildered. Speechless.
“I forgot to take out the garbage? Well! At least I didn’t back the car into a telephone pole.”
“That was five years ago!”
“Maybe it was, but my not taking out the garbage didn’t cost us a $500 deductible, now did it?”
To take Dr. Gottman’s expertise a smidgen further, it appears couples may not be communicating because of their fighting styles. How can a Moper talk things out with a Reactor when both turn sullen? Or a Director communicate with a Convincer with they are talking over each other? As Leo Tolstoy said, “what counts in making a happy marriage, is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.”
References: Can This Marriage Be Saved?