Not surprisingly, my attempts at writing light posts have fallen pretty flat. There’s not really much anyone can say about them anyway.
Since we know there will be marital/couples counseling at some point in S7, I figured another topic of interest might be what it takes to achieve happiness in a marriage. I’ve written about the topic of happiness a few times because I think there is a significant emphasis placed in the show on happiness and its importance. I have to assume they purposely chose to underline this mental and emotional state. (Among the many intriguing topics brought up on this show, making happiness one seems rather curious to me. While taking Martin deeper into depression as the show goes along until in S6 he reaches Major Depression, they continue to broach the subject of the overall importance of happiness. (Why else have the conversation in the hospital near the end of S6 between Louisa and Martin in which, after she tells him she’s taking James to Spain, she says “I’m not happy and I’m not making you happy am I” and he answers “Happy…Why does everybody have to be happy all the time?” That question hangs there while Louisa looks at him crestfallen. Once again she’s asking him if she’s the reason for his problems and his answer is indirect and noncommittal, as it was before. Besides, is this an existential question? Are we supposed to wonder whether being happy is even on his radar? Or should we ask whether being happy is a state he has lost any desire to strive for? In spite of all these uncertainties in regard to happiness, I will go ahead with this post about happiness in marriage and couples.)
I have now learned that John Gottman, who is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is considered an authority on marriage and its major pitfalls. He is known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations, many of which were published in peer-reviewed literature. Gottman was recognized in 2007 as one of the 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century. He is best known for his Four Horsemen concept ( which is a reference to what can bring on an apocalypse in a marriage). It defines four major negative communication styles that can cause significant problems in a marriage: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling.
It might be useful to go through each of these and see how Martin and Louisa have been depicted in relation to these behaviors and what we might like to see them do to change them. If we’re talking about change, and we have heard both Martin and Louisa say they think people can change, we should consider what particular changes could best help their marriage. Since Gottman has studied marriage, his assessment seems a pretty good place to start.
John Gottman’s FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE:
1. Criticism: Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong:
Generalizations: “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …” “why are you so …”
2. Contempt: Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her:
– Insults and name-calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
– Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery
– Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip
3. Defensiveness: Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack:
– Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”
– Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what your partner said
– Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …” “I did this because you did that…”
– Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing
– Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying – Whining “It’s not fair.”
4. Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness:
– Stony silence
– Monosyllabic mutterings
– Changing the subject
– Removing yourself physically
– Silent Treatment
So lets look at the Four Horsemen as they relate to what we’ve seen transpire between Martin and Louisa. (Perhaps a slight caution is appropriate here. Louisa will seem to be the instigator or culprit most often because she does most of the talking. Also, to a great extent the humor of the show often depends on these problematic sorts of interactions. I wouldn’t want to have them work on making themselves too much different at the expense of the humor.)
At various times in the show we have heard Louisa use some of the phrasing associated with the “Criticism” category. She has said, for example, “Everything’s always up to me, isn’t it? You never do anything or say anything to help us move on…”(S3E1) Or, “Why are our conversations so combative?” (I’m paraphrasing here). In both cases, she implies that Martin is causing the difficulty between them. Granted, these occur before they are married, but they exemplify the sort of interaction that belittles Martin. Louisa clearly thinks she’s the victim and being wronged. Although we haven’t heard her use that terminology during S5 or 6, she’s come close. She’s told him that she’ll be the one to question her mother’s behavior and that he’s expecting too much to want her to keep the baby quiet during his office hours. One occasion that stands out to me is on the first morning following his mother’s arrival in S6 when she has to leave the kitchen to find Martin after talking to his mother in the kitchen. She finds Martin tinkering with a clock in his office and angrily asks him what he’s doing. The implication is that he is guilty of leaving Louisa to deal with his mother by herself and she finds that absolutely wrong. Even the time when Louisa quickly comes into the kitchen to tell Martin to take James to music class is accusatory. “We don’t want him to grow up to be shy and introverted?” (motioning towards Martin and leaving us to fill in “like you”). Martin has asserted to Louisa that he doesn’t want James to be like him, but now Louisa is reminding him of that at a point when Martin is under pressure to agree.
The next category is “Contempt,” and they are both guilty of doing this from time to time. Most often this behavior is in the form of body language on both their sides. Louisa is more likely to roll her eyes when Martin does something annoying, which is admittedly humorous, but she also does it when she’s meant to be angry with him. For example, after Martin asks Dennis to come to dinner, and once again hasn’t taken the time to check with Louisa first, Louisa looks irked. This time she gives Martin the stink eye and then closes her eyes in frustration. The one action that Martin cannot seem to alter is making decisions without Louisa’s input, and she is always incensed by it. Because Martin has no awareness of how unhappy she is when he neglects to consult her, he innocently puts himself in a position to receive her disdain. I don’t think Louisa is supposed to be deliberately insulting him here; she is simply reacting naturally, if with anger. (It’s remarkable that Martin frequently has so much trouble simply asking Louisa’s opinion, especially since that is the one thing that always puts her off.)
Martin sometimes behaves contemptuously towards Louisa when talking about her job and her students. He belittles the value of the school that she heads and the students she cares so much about. She is proud of how she handles the troubles that take place at the school and it’s demeaning that he considers the school subpar and her as easily replaced. We do see a sneer and a curling of his lip at times when he refers to what he witnesses at the school and her importance there. He also uses some hostile humor, e.g. when the students get sick due to daring each other.
“Defensiveness” is the third category. I’m not sure I can think of any examples of this. Martin has sometimes protested that he didn’t mean what he said to be taken the way it was, but that’s not the same as acting defensively to ward off an attack by Louisa. I really don’t remember Louisa using this tactic either. If any of you think of a time when this happens, please help me out.
Number four is “Stonewalling.” This one is huge in this show. I don’t want to confuse Martin’s lack of talking skills or introversion with deliberately avoiding giving an answer or knowingly removing himself.
Martin is the one who exhibits this behavior most frequently, of course. The example I used above where Louisa has to find him in his study is one of several. He also immediately absents himself once he and Louisa have gotten the bedroom ready for his mother’s stay. Their first night together begins with Martin walking off without his bride and making it difficult for her to keep up. I would definitely put the scene at the Sports Day celebration as a good example of him stonewalling. His silent treatment begins early that day when Louisa tries to eat breakfast with him and suggests a weekend outing. It continues when Louisa reminds him of his promise to speak at Sports Day. It reaches its apex at the celebration and then he walks off.
Louisa is not immune to this reaction either. Leaving is her métier, or her default position. When the going gets tough, Louisa gets going.
In both cases, my feeling is they are demonstrating a sense of disconnection and distance from each other.
There are ways Gottman suggests of reversing these behaviors. Here are some basic recommendations:
– Learn to make specific complaints & requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I want Z)
– Conscious communication: Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously
– Validate your partner (let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes)
– Shift to appreciation (5 times as much positive feeling & interaction as negative) – Claim responsibility: “What can I learn from this?” & “What can I do about it?”
– Re-write your inner script (replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation, responsibility that are soothing & validating)
– Practice getting undefended (allowing your partner’s utterances to be what they really are: just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up
Surprisingly, I noticed that when Louisa requested that Martin take James to music circle, it was she who wouldn’t listen or talk about it. In that instance, Martin asked if they could talk about the plan and she cut him off. She was in a hurry and had a lot of driving ahead of her, and that often makes it harder to take a few minutes to discuss anything; however, he is offering to talk and she refuses and becomes critical.
Is that enough to keep him from trying again? It has to be more complicated than that. They’ve had some good conversations at times and they clearly want to find a way to resolve their marital conflicts. I don’t see them ever hugging for very long, but a little affection can go a long way. Louisa kisses Martin spontaneously from time to time, including in S6. Martin needs to do more of that. We know he can; he has kissed her without prompting before they got married. Everyone likes to be complimented and shown some appreciation. It was nice when Louisa told Martin she would miss him before leaving for work. He didn’t respond, but I imagine those words touched him as well as embarrassed him.
This show would not remain what it’s been if Martin and Louisa no longer clash, but maybe we can get an answer to that question left hanging about happiness. It’s just possible that their happiness hinges on each of them providing the support and companionship they each need. That’s not a terrible way to leave this couple…A little sappy, but not terrible.
Originally posted 2015-03-31 18:21:24.