In a long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, Dr. John Gottman discovered that men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce.

This critical skill is not limited to heterosexual couples. It’s essential in same-sex relationships as well, but the research shows that gay and lesbian couples are notably better at it than straight couples. See The 12 Year Study for more on this.

I want you to meet Lauren and Steven.* While Steven believes an equal partnership is the key to a happy and lasting marriage, his actions speak differently.

Steven: “The guys and I are going fishing this weekend. We are leaving later tonight.”
Lauren: “But my girlfriends are staying with us on Friday, and I need help cleaning the house tonight. We talked about this. How could you forget? Can you leave tomorrow morning?”
Steven: “How did you forget I have my guys trip? I can’t change our departure schedule. We are leaving in a few hours.”

Lauren’s anger boils. She calls him a “selfish asshole” and storms out of the kitchen.

Feeling overwhelmed, Steven pours himself a glass of whiskey and turns on the football game.

When Lauren walks back into the room to talk, he stonewalls her. She starts to cry. He announces he needs to work on his truck and leaves the room.

Arguments like these are full of accusations, making it difficult to determine the underlying cause. What is clear is Steven’s unwillingness to accept Lauren’s influence.

Rejecting Influence

It’s not that marriage can’t survive moments of anger, complaints, or criticism. They can. Couples get in trouble when they match negativity with negativity instead of making repairs to de-escalate conflict. Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that 65% of men increase negativity during an argument.

Steven’s response doesn’t show that he hears Lauren’s complaint. Instead, he responds with defensiveness and sends a complaint right back: Why didn’t she remember his plans?

The Four Horsemen – criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling – are telltale signs that a man is resisting his wife’s influence.

My point is not to insult men. It takes two to make a marriage work and it is just as important for wives to treat their husbands with honor and respect. But Dr. Gottman’s research indicates that a majority of wives – even in unhappy marriages – already do this.

This doesn’t mean women don’t get angry and even contemptuous of their husbands. It just means that they let their husbands influence their decision making by taking their opinions and feelings into account. Data suggests that men do not return the favor.

Statistically speaking, Dr. Gottman’s research shows there is an 81% chance that a marriage will self-implode when a man is unwilling to share power.

What Men Can Learn From Women

There are books that say men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While this isn’t literally true, men and women often do feel alien to each other.

This starts in childhood. When boys play games, their focus is on winning, not their emotions or the others playing. If one of the boys get hurt, he gets ignored. After all, “the game must go on.”

With girls, feelings are often the first priority. When a tearful girl says, “we’re not friends anymore,” the game stops and only starts again if the girls make up. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman explains, “the truth is that ‘girlish’ games offer far better preparation for marriage and family life because they focus on relationships.”

There are plenty of women who are unaware of these social nuisances and men who are deeply sensitive to others. In Dr. Gottman’s research, however, only 35% of the men were emotionally intelligent.

Two Roads Diverged

…and I took the relationship-focused one.

The husband who lacks emotional intelligence rejects his wife’s influence because he fears a loss of power. And because he is unwilling to accept influence, he will not be influential.

The emotionally intelligent husband is interested in his wife’s emotions because he honors and respects her. While this man may not express his emotions in the same way his wife does, he will learn how to better connect with her.

When she needs to talk, he’ll turn off the football game and listen. He will pick “we” over “me.” He will understand his wife’s inner world, continue to admire her, and communicate this respect by turning towards her. His relationship, sex life, and overall joy will be far greater than the man who lacks emotional intelligence.

The emotionally intelligent husband will also be a better father because he is not afraid of feelings. He will teach his children to respect their emotions and themselves. Dr. Gottman calls this Emotion Coaching.

Because this man is deeply connected to his wife, she will go to him when she is stressed, upset, and overjoyed. She’ll even go to him when she is aroused.

How to Accept Influence

Dr. Gottman suspects men who resist their wives influence do so without realizing it. Accepting influence is both a mindset and a skill cultivated by paying attention to your spouse every day. This means building your Love Maps, expressing your fondness and admiration, and accepting bids for connection.

And when conflict happens, the key is to understand your partner’s point of view and be willing to compromise. Do this by identifying your inflexible areas and searching for something both of you can agree to.

For example: Steven understands that Lauren is stressed about having company when the house is a mess. While he may not be able to delay his trip until the next morning, he can push it back to later that evening so he can help her around the house first. Maybe instead of Steven vacuuming and wiping down the counters (typically his task), Lauren could wipe them down in the morning before her friends arrive so Steven could leave a little earlier with his buddies.

Accepting your partner’s influence is a great strategy for gaining more respect, power, and influence. Want to have a happy and stable marriage? Make your commitment to your partner stronger than your commitment to winning. If you do that, your marriage wins.


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*Author’s Note: In the example provided, Lauren’s negativity is realistic (and understandable) because her needs are not being met. There tends to be criticism and frustration from both partners in these relationships. With that said, if Lauren had softened her start-up, Steven may have received it better and accepted her influence.

In all marital conflicts, both parties have responsibilities as a speaker and a listener. The listener’s role is to listen non-defensively for the emotional bid for connection, even if the tone used is harsh, while the speaker’s role is to use a soft start-up by complaining without blame.

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Kyle Benson

Kyle writes at KyleBenson.net, where he uses the science of love and life experiences to help those in troubled relationships get the love, respect, and passion they dream of.

  • Steve

    I think the overall message is spot on, but I have some issues with the example given. I object to suggestion that the Steven character is the one who amped up the negativity in their disagreement. Lauren opened with “…I can’t believe you forgot about my friends coming…” when apparently they BOTH had made an error when they scheduled their plans. She was equally at fault but she ignores her own culpability, blames him, and demands he make changes in his plans so her plans can go interrupted. I don’t think you can get more self centered than that. Furthermore unless they discussed him helping out cleaning up before her friends came into town she has effectively become angry with him and demanded he change his plans because she made her own plans and she had committed him to work as part of these plans without his consent. That is crazy. Maybe she should consider his feelings in the matter and not lead with “how could you forget about my plans…” Or with demands that he delay/ruin his own plans while she makes zero concessesions of her own in the matter….

    • Yahhhmon

      And the assumption that “most wives do this” is assumption.

      Yes, there are some wonderful women who are skilled at deescalation just as there men who do that too.

      This article seems overly gender biased, which is no surprise.

      However, saying that, yes, men should be influenced by their wives more and some women could choose to be a little more too (not all are even if many are).

    • PsychDr

      Steve,
      An error in thinking I see all the time with my couples/husbands in therapy is the assumption you just made which is of course the housework is HER responsibility. It’s not “helping out” which assumes her job, it’s sharing the load. That right there is not sharing influence as running a household is really the job of both adults even when one person is staying at home with small children. Note that the husband in this article “goes back to watching football”. Imagine what might have happened if he just started doing some of the work needing done before both people had their plans begin. When men share the load they find that not only do their relationships run smoother but they also end up with more and better sex. Just a thought.

      • Thank you for this

      • Steve

        I had interpreted the anecdote in a different way – that because there was company coming over the woman wanted the house in “company” form so to speak. I would whole heartedly agree that housework in general is both of their responsibility, but this seems to fall into a different category in my mind. What I mean by this is that there is kind of a “regular” steady state that a household will oscillate around from a neatness standpoint and presumably both parties contribute equally to maintaining such a state – however when friends or company come over maybe one or both parties changes what their threshold is for an acceptable level of neatness – maybe the woman in this instance is embarrassed by any amount of untidiness, but maybe the gentleman is OK with there being a little grout in the bathroom. Presuming that the house is at its “baseline” tidiness level and not a complete wreck, I would suggest that it’s an appropriate expectation that the responsibility for any tidying above and beyond a baseline cleanliness falls on her. I know that if I wanted to have a social get together I certainly wouldn’t expect my significant other to have to do extra tidying because I wanted to have guests and I was self conscious about the state of the household. Now if the house was a mess because people were behind on chores, etc., then yes, I agree her certainly has a responsibility to make his fair share of contributions.

        In reality, I think he should want to help out regardless of the state of the house because it’s a nice thing to do and people who care about each other should be happy doing nice things for each other.

        Lets think about this the other way around though and I think there are some other biases that may emerge. Let us suppose that she had agreed to help clean up the house because a group of his friends were coming into town. Coincidentally she already had a girls trip planned for that weekend which both partners were aware of. Then she comes home and says oh shoot, I forgot that I was supposed to leave tonight, I won’t be able to help clean up anymore.

        If I were in that situation, never in a million years would I get angry at my partner… It was a oversight plain and simple – and in this case the oversight was made by both parties because both knew about both scheduled activities when they had this discussion about cleaning. I think the reasonable response in that situation would be – “oh you know what, I totally forgot you had this event too when we discussed cleaning up. We probably should have made plans to clean the house yesterday so there wouldn’t have been this conflict.” Furthermore, I think I would almost certainly WANT my partner to go on their trip on time – maybe it’s extra work for me but so what, we both made an oversight (and even if only she made the oversight – who the heck cares – *unless of course this was some sort of pattern of behavior.) Regardless, I think I would be happy to do some extra cleaning just so my partner would not miss out on a big weekend trip planned with close friends! Why wouldn’t I want my partner to be happy?? I certainly know I wouldn’t want them to miss important time spent with close friends that may not come around too frequently.

        This incident was really just a function of an unfortunate oversight by both parties – that when they discussed cleaning the house up that nobody realized there was this scheduling conflict. Both parties had all the information – and regardless, even if he just made a mistake so be it. Mistakes happen! Clearly there was no ill will on his part… Given all that, me it seems incredibly unreasonable and downright selfish to ask somebody to miss out on part an important trip with close friends because she doesn’t want to have to do some extra work cleaning up. Really, to me it’s an overreaction from the very beginning when she complains, “how could you forget?” – incinuating that he should be blamed for this mistake, Then to have an expectation that he leave the next morning? That’s crazy in my mind. Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to say, oh shoot we both forgot that our schedules clashed, can we figure out a way to problem solve this? Can we do as much cleaning as possible right now? Maybe I can push our ETD back a few hours so I can help clean, etc. That seems like a reasonable response and problem solving effort from both parties where no blame is placed – as opposed to this scenario where the woman is quite eager to blame her partner and has extremely little regard for how important this trip may be for him. In fact, instead of being willing to do some extra cleaning herself or instead of taking the chance of suffering a little social embarrassment (BTW if these are her good friends, they probably shouldn’t care if her house was a mess anyways) she would rather have her partner miss out on his important weekend (about half of it) so he can contribute an equal amount to a task which debatably he isn’t even responsible for in the first place. To me, this kind of expectation typifies the sense of entitlement that some (not all) women unfortunately have – that the world revolves around them.

        • PsychDr

          A lot of assumptions are being made. I believe the point within the Gottman framework is that the husband’s immediate response was defensive. Defensiveness sends the message of “that’s not my problem, you are on your own”. I’m not saying that it was ok to call him a selfish asshole but that is how the dance can get started. I’ve found in my practice that people are often very unaware of the myriad ways defensiveness shows up. The reaction to defensiveness is very often anger. The other point is that when the other partner’s feelings aren’t counting for anything…which clearly they weren’t for the husband when he pours a whiskey instead of trying to problem solve or help in any way in the time he does have…..that’s when resentments build. In general (and there are always more within group differences in things than between group differences) I’ve found that women more automatically tend to allow influence and respond to their partner’s feelings than do men who often only *think* they do. Gottman’s research kind of bears this out when the effect of allowing influence is not bi-directional but only occurs related to whether *men* allow influence. His research data show women already generally allow influence at such high levels that there is what’s called a ceiling effect….no difference in the explanation factor. Further, I would just challenge you to see that you are not seeing entitlement in the husband’s behavior where if I were to see it at all (vs just conflict and feelings), it would be in BOTH not just the wife. Food for thought.

          • Steve

            Fair enough, interesting discussion regardless.

  • elliefrost

    Or the wife always gets her way because the husband doesn’t want to suffer the consequences if he disagrees with anything.

  • Marisa Ulrich

    Wow. As a wife, I would never be as demanding or selfish as the one in the example. Sheesh. While I see a point or two in this, I am getting rather weary of the blame being laid almost solely on the man. I have known many a woman who runs roughshod over men’s and even fellow women’s feelings and many a man who is kind and compassionate. Of course, it all depends on your definition. For some women I have known, kind and compassionate really means bending over backwards.

    • Eve Salazar

      Being disappointed your husband is about to back out of previously agreed-upon plans in order to facilitate his own plans is not selfish, it’s acknowledging a dilemma. Did she express that disappointment in the best possible way? No. However. One of the other commenters made a good point: then why didn’t he get off his butt and offer to help THAT NIGHT, seeing her in a jam? I liked this article because both parties ARE responsible to each other but the escalation occurred due to his reactions and unwillingness to participate in resolution. So, is HE being an active and emotionally intelligent partner willing to find a resolution quickly and kindly? Or is the onus on being the emotionally intelligent partner always laid at the feet of us “selfish” women who need to simply figure it out, swallow our needs, and avoid bitching about it in the process? Me thinks the latter.

      • Marisa Ulrich

        It’s been so long since I read this, I had to reread to refresh my memory. Thanks for your thoughts but my view of the matter pretty much still stands. They both have a lot to learn about emotional maturity, no doubt, but she had a moment to react with patience in the very beginning and did not. I think, in this case, where I might be disappointed, I would not demand he change his plans to suit me or call him an “asshole”. I would just clean the house myself for my friends and go on with life. But, that’s just me. I don’t sweat this kind of stuff. Life’s too short. God bless. 🙂

  • Gilgamesh

    Get a shared calendar.

  • netreality

    She started with a complaint, but he responded with another one. That’s called escalating the negativity, rather than looking for at least a partial solution. He could have phrased it better, such as “Oh, no, I forgot, and can’t change my trip right now. What would be helpful in the hour that I have left?”.

    Then later she returned to the room to talk, which is making an effort, but he refused to talk to her. That’s twice that he made it worse. She made errors too, obviously.

    This article is trying to explain that couples should aim to de-escalate issues, and look for commonality, show some empathy, rather than heaping on criticism. It would be helpful to give a good example.

  • Vanessa Keitha

    Typo: There are plenty of women who are unaware of these social ‘nuisances’ and men who are deeply sensitive to others.

    I think u mean ‘nuances’… 🙂

    Great article, Thanks.
    V

  • Kamis Dewey

    I think it’s weird he committed to help her clean up before her girls’ night (Friday) and forgot *his own schedule*, then blames her for it without apologizing for his mistake of overcommitment. It sounds like this conversation takes place on Thursday (since her girls’ night is Friday and she asks if he can leave “tomorrow morning” and it wouldn’t make sense for her to ask him to be around for her girls’ night). I don’t think it’s necessarily reasonable for assume that saying, “I’m going on a weekend trip” means the other will know “That means I’m leaving Thursday night.”

    In a healthy relationship, people need to have room to express dismay when their needs are forgotten, without the other partner 1. blaming them and 2. shutting down. That kind of behavior leads to emotional abuse and gaslighting.

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  • disqus_GB8lUuziuG

    I think from the examples given here the couple is simply best to divorce. Any wife who would be so selfish, disrespectful and controlling has no business being in a relationship. She attacked her husband, now when he needs time to sort it out and deal he is now the “bad guy”… Same old Feminist hate mongering as always.

  • Max

    The point of the article is, understanding your partner’s point of view and being willing to compromise.

    Being right or wrong is irrelevant, because the goal is a strong emotional bond, not justice. One partner can be completely wrong and the other partner can respond with empathy. The goal should be to meet your partners needs, not to be “right” — because we want love, not justice.

    By the way, since we do not know the circumstances about their agreement, i.e., who agreed to what when, we cannot not know definitively who is right/wrong. And like I said, it does not even matter.

  • Deborah West

    WOW. This article is very negative towards the wife. But yet it was clearly stated that by the wife that they had ALREADY talked about her plans BEFORE he made his plans. It appears he just simply ‘forgot’ that he had already committed to helping his wife and instead made plans of his own. Something better came along for him so he jumped on it. This is called ranking. The husband ranked his wife and his commitment to her as LESS important than having his own fun. He could have easily told his friends that he couldn’t be there that night because he had already made promises but that he would join them later. Period. Men need to stand by their word. Period. That’s what caused the escalation.

  • Desiree Mulligan

    Not sure about the example given. I assume that Steven and Lauren had made this agreement and that Steven simply forgot about it. Lauren attacking Steven could indicate two things….that she is emotionally immature also, or that she is exasperated because this is not the first time and won’t be a last. Could he be ‘forgetting’ a little too often for her liking?

    I do agree with the overall theme of the article but suggest that part of ’emotional intelligence’ is to understand and make allowances for those around us who are not as emotionally intelligent, through no fault of their of their own. Although this could get tiresome as it’s usually the women who are making allowances and nurturing their partners AND their children as well.

    I think that the whole concept of Dr Grey’s Mars and Venus, has merit and that both partners need to understand and make allowances for the other, given their differences.

  • TrueLoveIsSelfLove

    You can’t save a marriage with a mind-blind spouse, via Asperger’s….Emotional intelligence is a concept they don’t even understand for themselves.

    • Marisa Ulrich

      Not to be rude, but as an Aspie married to an Aspie raising Aspies, your assessment is rather dismissive and unkind, honestly. We are most capable of emotional intelligence. It’s a matter of how we are approached. It takes time to get to know us and understand what is inside.

      • TrueLoveIsSelfLove

        I think Aspies are perfect for each other. You say it takes time to get to know us and understand what is inside, yet the same is not done for us neurotypicals…That’s been my experience….And if I sound rude, you should hear the Aspie I’m living with.

      • Marisa Ulrich

        I understand it can be a struggle. And I’m so sorry it is for you. I should say just as with neurotypicals, there are Aspies who are kinder than others. I just didn’t want us all painted with the same brush. It’s hard trying to be understood as more than what the world seems to see. We do have hearts and feelings-sometimes very intense ones. The tough part for many of us is in how to express them in a world that can be rather frightening to us. Perhaps Aspies are indeed well-suited to one another. Everyone needs someone to understand. I hope things work out for you. I didn’t mean to come down hard. God bless.

  • cherie

    I appreciate the overall message in this article; defensiveness. We could all go on and on about the semantics. Bottom line though, defensiveness is the main culprit. And also to note, using semantics in a heated emotional discussion, is a type of defensiveness. Perhaps the definition of “a defensive remark” needs more clarification. Research, not opinion, has shown the destructive nature of always being on the defense. It’s no bueno and has no right to be justified, especially with a semantic argument.