A double threat to marriage: COVID-19 and politics

The divorce rate in America has rose 34% from March 2020 to June 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first began, and there is reason to believe that further research will show the same or worse. Why is this? Well, one clue is that a disproportionate number of these additional divorces are newlyweds--double the percentage from the same period in 2019. Couples who have not learned how to effectively negotiate conflict find themselves stuck with each other. Problems that might have been otherwise dismissed become gridlocked, producing the emotional distance that results in divorce. It is no wonder that 31% of divorced couples in the time period cited above named COVID-19 lockdowns as a major factor in the failure of their marriages. [click here for article with these statistics]

Likewise, this political season (thankfully nearly over) has resulted massive family conflict and marriage crisis, especially combined with COVID-19 lockdowns. Here is a quote from a family therapist taht really hit home:

A big threat that I see growing right now is the people who were saying that they are morally compromised by having a conversation with somebody who differs from them. Morally compromised because they are condoning evil. [click here for source]

What's that like, to experience this with your spouse? To feel that even discussing politics is toxic because your spouse's political views are inherently evil? And perhaps even to feel, "He isn't stupid--he has to know this is wrong!" This represents a problem which may be entirely gridlocked, a time when it is impossible to "agree to disagree," because that feels like compromising your morals.

What can be done with regard to either of these topics? The Gottman Method of marriage therapy, which I use, I feel offers the most realistic and effective answer. John Gottman's extensive research shows that marriages are not saved by solving problems. At the end of 20 years (with no therapy) he showed that 66% of happy couples' perpetual problems remained unsolved--the same percentage as those who divorced within 20 years.

The research showed that the difference between the successes and failures was that couples who learn to have dialogue around conflict wind up becoming emotionally closer whether the problem is solved or not. Even with voices raised, emotions intense, these couples know one another deeply, respect one another deeply, and care for each other's well-being deeply. This results in arguments that have a 5:1 ratio of positive comments to negative comments. In other words, they saw their relationship as the solution, not the problem, and used their relationship strengths to speak respectfully. They didn't gauge marriage success by whether a problem was "solved," because feeling loved and understood is so much more satisfying than solving a problem anyway, even if it gets solved.

Gottman Method therapy teaches couples how to imitate these "masters of relationship," based on solid research on what really works long-term. This upends many of the supposedly "common sense" techniques used in other marriage therapies, which, if helpful at all, are only helpful in the short term. In plain terms, couples in Gottman Method therapy learn that the REAL problem is the HOW, not the WHAT.