Accepting influence is one of the most important ingredients for a healthy, happy marriage. Accepting our spouse’s influence is most important in conflict, yet it is the hardest time to do it. So, deciding ahead of time that you will accept influence is a great way to gain more respect, power, and influence in your marriage. It is the way to win. Both of you win. If only one wins in arguments, both really lose.
Gottman’s research shows that men, more frequently than women, have difficulty accepting influence from their wives. All their training and culture tune men to take a decisive lead and make decisions. BUT, statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his wife, there is an 81% chance that his marriage will self-destruct. The husband may think he has won the argument, but he has lost the war. His wife will either become weak and unwilling to participate in any decision making or she will sabotage his plans and become passive-aggressive.
Though men may statistically be more prone to unwillingness to accept influence, I’ve met my share of women who will not accept their husband’s influence. They destroy their marriages too.
The happiest, most stable marriages are those where neither one resists power-sharing and decision-making.
Unwillingness to accept influence, share power, and share decision-making is most easily seen when criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling are part of most arguments. These behaviors will poison the marriage and are great predictors of marriage failure.
Kyle Benson, writing for The Gottman Institute, describes a few different ways to help see the other person’s point of view. If we cannot see the problem from their perspective, it is nearly impossible to accept their influence in finding a solution.
Kyle starts with the assumption that every situation can yield two different yet valid perspectives that deserve equal weight. When my perspective seems so correct, how can I accept influence from my husband when his perspective is so different?!
Here are the three ways Mr. Benson describes to help us see another point of view.
The Conflict is the Space Between
Picture you and your spouse on two separate islands with murky water between. If you are going to see from your mate’s perspective, you would have to travel to your partner’s island to see as they see. Look at the problem as the murky water between your islands and focus on clearing that up. After the water’s cleaner, both of you can dive below the surface and discover what is actually going on.
Accusations, assumptions, or criticisms muddy the water and make the real problem and solution impossible to find. Stop these negative attitudes and words and be willing to listen, really listen, to your spouse. Then you can dip deep and discover the real issue.
Finding the Elephant in the Room
Perhaps you’ve seen the illustration of six blind men touching an elephant and declaring what is in the room. They say it is a pillar (leg), a rope (tail), a thick branch (trunk), a huge fan (ear), a wall (belly) and a solid pipe (tusk).
In practically every fight there is an invisible elephant in the room. The truth about the elephant lies somewhere between these perspectives. In other words, acknowledge that your mate’s perspective is just as valid as yours. You don’t have to agree, but in order to work through the problem you need to show respect for their opinion.
Check Your Jersey
Often in conflict we feel like we are on different teams. Imagine that underneath your different team jerseys, you are both wearing another jersey that is the same color. In trying to solve your disagreement, remember to check your jersey and remember you are really both on the same team.
Over the lifetime of your marriage, there will be many tests. Often you will have to accept your spouse’s influence if you are going to have a successful marriage. In five, ten, or fifty years you will look very different from now. You will have changed the way you think, how you act, and what is important to you. It happens through tests.
In our marriage vows we promise to love each other for better or worse, in sickness and health, poverty and wealth, forsaking all others. Our marriage will be tested by these big things and thousands of little things. Being able to recognize our spouse’s point of view, respect their feelings and thoughts, and then look beyond the immediate crisis to the underlying realities will make the difference between a growing and healthy marriage or a shell that we may choose to shed as useless.
So the next time an argument starts, you may want to do what one husband did. He began to act like a mime feeling the air. The wife looked at him with a ‘What is wrong with you?’ kind of look and he responded, “I’m trying to find the elephant in the room. Can you tell me what you’re seeing so we can figure out what this elephant is together?”
If you would like to read all of Kyle Benson’s article, see: There are Two Views to Every Conflict and Both are Valid.
Read more of our Child-Ready Marriage materials.