In the last article, Part 1 (click here) of this three article series, I reviewed Dr. John Gottman’s research on predictors for divorce. The most well known predictors are referred to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. These are the four negative interactional patterns that indicate the relationship is really at risk. For more information on the Four Horsemen I would encourage you to visit the Gottman blog and a series of articles on the Four Horsemen written by Ellie Lesita (click here).
What Else Should Couples Know?
What makes this relationship research so important is that we now have a theory of relationships that can not only explain what works and doesn’t work in relationships, but we also have tools to help couples learn new behaviors and approaches to manage conflict and difficulties. While there is no magic bullet for relationships, knowing what to avoid certainly helps.
One of the most misunderstood concepts in the Gottman research on divorce prediction is the concept of “accepting influence”. If you are hearing the term for the first time, at first glance the concept of accepting influence could sound like it might mean giving in to your partner. However, this is not what accepting influence refers to.
At the most basic level accepting influence is simply being open to what your partner is saying, thinking, or needing. When you communicate with your partner a level of acknowledgement and respect, that is accepting influence.
Communicating that you are willing to listen to your partner’s perspective does not mean that you agree or even like what your partner is saying. It doesn’t even mean that you will change your mind or perspective if you feel strongly. The key is responding in a way that encourages your partner to share thoughts, feeling, ideas, needs.
Examples of Accepting Influence
- I see what you mean
- You have a good point
- I see things differently
- I agree with the first thing you said but I disagree with the second
- Let me think about it
- Okay, let’s go ahead with that. Good idea.
- What do you think?
- I had not even thought of that
- I am open to what you are saying
- Sorry, but I am not really open to changing my mind on this, here’s why
- It’s okay, you feel the way you feel
Examples of Not Accepting Influence
- No, you are wrong
- That’s ridiculous
- (Scoffing) You actually believe that
- (Sarcastically) Brilliant
- That is off base
- Get real
- (Any verbal or nonverbal communication that shuts down the partner’s idea)
Beyond the actual words, accepting influence is communicating openness to what the partner is expressing, even if you feel very differently. The original research highlighted a gender difference in that 81% of the marriages where men did not accept influence ended up in divorce. These were cases where even reasonable statements by the wife were rejected with a high degree of defensiveness, belligerence, or contempt.
Of course accepting influence goes both ways for partners in heterosexual relationships or same sex relationships. Both partners need to feel heard and respected for their thoughts and feelings, there is a lot at stake.
The Last Two Predictors of Divorce
- Meta-emotion mismatch
- Escalating Conflict
Stay Tuned for Part 3 of 3