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Newlyweds' 5 Biggest Pitfalls

Experts say unrealistic expectations, avoiding conflict after marriage can lead to disaster.

We Should Avoid Conflict at All Costs

He leaves and goes for a drive when she confronts him about viewing computer porn. She learns to stifle her feelings about computer porn and keep quiet.

Couples who claim "we never fight" are missing an opportunity to build their relationship. "It's how couples handle the conflict that matters," says Freeman. "Do you de-escalate situations? Can you repair the relationship? Do you validate your partner after a big fight? When people give up on each other, it's usually because they've stopped trying to resolve conflicts."

The research of John Gottman, PhD, has had a profound impact on the field of marriage counseling. Freeman says Gottman can tell with 95% accuracy which couples will stay together. "He puts them in a room and videotapes them discussing their relationships. Then he observes their verbal and nonverbal behaviors, and counts positive behaviors, such as nodding or placing a hand on a shoulder, and negative behaviors, such as whining or stern criticism. With successful couples, the ratio is five positive behaviors to one negative. What makes them successful is the ability to reduce the negative feelings."

"Even good marriages will have criticism and defensiveness, but there's danger when people stonewall or feel contempt. If you hold someone in contempt, you don't think the problem can be resolved. Contempt replaces hope."

Freeman says some important lessons emerging from the research are different for men and women. "Wives who stand toe-to-toe with their husbands and don't give in do well. But when wives raise their tolerance levels, the marriage is doomed, because the husband makes a power play. Husbands who can calm themselves down and lower their anger are more likely to have happy marriages."

Edited by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 24, 2004

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