Doing Life Together

angry-man-274175_1280Bill and Ann need to stop inflicting pain on each other. Both suffer physical side effects from their unhappy marriage. They don’t listen to each other or a therapist because they are so physiologically aroused. Their emotions overtake them. They are distressed and in need of help.

They need self-control. Bill and Ann are so busy hanging on to injury or planning the next evasive tactic, they don’t consider the “rightfulness” of their responses. Are they evidencing the fruit of the Spirit through complaint, criticism and demand? Is emotional avoidance God’s way to deal with a spouse?

We are to guard our tongues. When we resort to criticism and demand we are not showing Christ’s love to our partner. When we avoid conflict or emotional exchange we are not resolving issues.

So how do we begin to turn the tide in what looks like a divorce situation? There is a technique developed by John Gottman, Ph.D. that helps couples begin to change highly negative interactions. He advises that both spouses be trained in soothing skills to help them both calm down. Calming down lessens physical arousal and makes it more possible to hear the other person.

Gottman suggests that when you have a difficult interaction, you monitor your heart rate. If your heart rate increases 10 beats per minute over it’s regular rate, you stop the interaction. Take a break (at least 20 minutes) and do something soothing. During this time you are NOT to think about the faults of your partner. Instead, calm yourself through something soothing (a walk, music, counting to 10, prayer, etc.) Your body will calm down. Then you can hear and deal better with your partner.

During the time you are calming down, you should also replace negative thoughts of your partner with thoughts that are kinder. Give the spouse the benefit of the doubt, e.g., “He’s only saying this because he’s mad. He loves me and really doesn’t want to hurt me.” As you get better calming yourself down, you can try and soothe your partner. Listen and validate what is being said.

When you get really good at this, add words of affection towards your spouse. For example, “Honey we are going to find a way to work this out because we love each other.”

The purpose of learning to do this soothing technique is to calm you down so you can stop the intense physiological responses that prevent you from controlling your interactions. When you are so overloaded by emotion, you can’t think clearly and no amount of therapy helps.

The spiritual application of this is that you are exercising self-control. You choose to think on good things, calm down your body and try to listen to your spouse. Not only will you have fewer health problems but you’ll also be pleasing God.


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