Lately all sorts of relationship articles have been popping up in my news feed. Like the terrible one about how you should have sex with your husband every day. Good for you, honey. Moving on. I read one this week that has really made me think. I suggest you take a look at it. It's in the Atlantic and it's called Masters of Love by Emily Esfahani Smith. Smith's article discusses the science of marital happiness. You should really read it because my "Cliff's Notes" will miss a bunch of important stuff.
In the article, Smith writes about research done by psychologists at the Gottman Institute. By researching interactions between couples in a Love Lab, these experts concluded that there are Masters of relationships and Disasters. Those who are Masters are really good at keeping two elements central in their relationship: kindness and generosity. Sure, you say, that seems so obvious. Well, not to me. I took a scan of this article and it clicked with me. Then I read it again and realized I'm a Disaster.
Not so fast. I'm very kind and very generous to my children. I'd give them the sun, the stars, and the moon, if I could. I'm also, generally, very kind to them. (Except that time at the grocery store when they threw the orange juice container and it broke and I told them to cut the shit or I'd rip one of their arms off and hit the other with it.)I think I'm, for the most part, kind to others in my life- friends, co-workers, and acquaintances, and I'm sorta generous. I don't mind donating money here and there, or volunteering once-in-a-while or sharing a snack, or something.
Yet, in my marriage I'm less kind and less generous. According to the Gottmans, Disasters are relationships that don't last more than six years, or include couples who are perpetually unhappy. That's not us, or at least not us in my opinion. Firstly, we've been married 10 years and together 13. Secondly, I'm pretty happy in my marriage. I love Andy, and our life, and him. I think he's cute, and smart, and hard-working, and every day I think of the life we have, with pride and contentment. Yet, when I read the article, I seem to fit the description of the disaster spouse. How can that be?
The Gottman Institute watched couples through the course of activities related to a vacation day: eating, cooking, chatting. The psychologists noted that the Master couples differed from the others in their responses to the partner's signals for connecting. They noted that the Master couples listened, with interest and genuine care, when the other partner spoke of a concern, passion, or interest. The Master couples "turn toward" one another by engaging. Huh. Ok. I don't do that so much. I like to be tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic and crass. That makes genuine engagement difficult. When Andy calls me at work to tell me a story about a challenge he has encountered, I most often sigh very dramatically, make a snoring noise and say, "Oh, what? I'm sorry! I just fell asleep listening to your boring story." Ahh, good times. Makes me laugh just thinking about that. But, that's not nice! While I may be trying to be funny, I'm leaning away from my partner.
These Masters also look for ways to be appreciative. They seek ways to thank their spouse. I, too, say thank you to Andy. Like this: "Thanks for being late and leaving me alone to put the kids to bed again." Strike two! Impending disaster!
Another tip from the Masters: they share joys, even if the joy is just that of one individual. So, as I am reading this article, I get the idea. Next time Andy tells me his team has won a baseball game, I should congratulate him, ask for details of the big win, and maybe suggest a celebratory beer. I should not tell him he looks like an overgrown 12-year old in his uniform and then inform him baseball players are not as athletic as runners. When he tells me about a really exciting meeting at work I should not, not, NOT reply with, "Don't care, don't care, DON'T CARE!"
So, I'm a little bit of a Disaster Spouse. I partially blame my personality and partially blame my environment of days gone by and now. When I was young I really resented gender roles and felt kindness in women meant weakness. Today, I may want to be generous and kind. I may have every intention of leaning toward Andy, scanning for positivity, but then, the kids are screaming, and there are piles of laundry and I had a bad day at work and he is late, and then, he is sitting in the driveway, on the phone, while I serve dinner. And he knows what is going on in the house and he still sits in the driveway. My angry lady gets her groove on in these moments and all hell breaks loose. He could walk in the door looking hotter than Adam Levine in a Speedo and I'd have nothing nice to say. I have a lot of "active destructive" (read the article) things to say and am on a mission to kill all joy. Even if he tells me he was just on the phone landing a big deal at work, or planning a vacation for us, or talking to his mom, I just don't care.
This is my New Year's Marriage Resolution. I'm not going to let life get in the way of being a kinder, more generous person and I'll do so genuinely. This Disaster Spouse is going to get a makeover and turn into a Master Wife. I can do it!
There's a piece missing in this puzzle. The article is about couples, not individuals. Being caring and generous is a two-way street. I decided to tell Andy about the article the other night. I started by asking him what he thought are the two characteristics of Master couples. The man (who learned all there is to know about life and relationships in Boy Scouts) replied, "Obedience and Thriftiness.
Oh boy, looks like we both have some work to do.