“Bid Theory” and the Spirit of Marriage

Of all the people who marry, only 30 per cent grow towards a quality of marriage that they hoped for when they started out. So says Ty Tashiro in his book, “The Science of Happily Ever After.” A lot of us divorce or separate, and many maintain a “just reasonably content” compromise, and a few of us are “happily ever after.”

By the way, this is true if one is a faith-follower or if one is something else from the spiritual-psychological neighbourhood.

Seattle’s John Gottman, the current marital-parenting guru, has studied married couples for four decades and distilled the nature of their success – and it is completely ordinary. “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”

According to Gottman, people whose relationships thrived “scanned the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” Those who gave up on their marriages more than often scanned for their partner’s mistakes.

This part of Gottman’s research is obvious to those who identify gratitude as an evidence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Gottman found the key to success in the everyday interactions between couples. He calls them “bids.” Say my partner makes a thoughtful and generous dinner for the family and asks for my response with the hope of some appreciation. I thank her blankly, because I’m immersed in my own thing. She has made a “bid,” according to Gottman, for my attention and appreciation and I didn’t deliver. And neither do the kids for that matter.

Did you know that the majority of “bids” between unhappy couples go unanswered or worse, dismissed with contempt?

Here is something interesting: when Gottman examined the decades of marital data, he found divorcing couples responded to bids only infrequently, less than a third of the time. What about couples that thrived? They approached and appreciated the bids nearly 90% of the time. They had “emotional intelligence.”

Seems simple enough but sometimes hard to do.

(Adapted from a July 2014 Vancouver Sun article by Michael Pond.)

Appreciative Inquiry for Couples

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Appreciative Inquiry is a theory of change that is used in parenting, marriage as well as lots of businesses and organizations. Unlike theories of strategic planning that focus on correcting faults, Appreciative Inquiry looks towards what is best about what already exists.

It is important in marriage counselling where couples have forgotten how to give attention, affection and approval. And it is important in simple neighbourliness and parenting as well as in teaching.

Couples have found that they grow in their relationships more truthfully in a way that problem-correcting counselling does not permit. Venting hurts is most often a rehearsal for the next conflict or problem. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive rehearsal for positive change.

Here are some questions I typically ask my couple clients to help them focus on what is true, noble and right in their partnership.

1. How are you contributing to ingenious solutions in your marriage by being yourself? And what about your spouse?
2. How are you excellent for your spouse? (How is your spouse “good value” for you?)
3. What one valuable thing are you doing to protect and care for your family while still doing your life and work?
4. Can you describe together a positive practice that you consider important to add excellence in your marriage? (Note, you might not be doing this right now though you could in the future.)
5. What do you currently regard to be the most enduring and secure thing about your marriage?
6. Describe the skills you use to solve problems and resolve conflict within your partnership?
7. How is being “carnal” or “in flesh” important to you and your partner?
8. What are some key factors that keep you in sexually and emotionally faithful?
9. How is conflict essential to making a good marriage for you and your partner?
10. What do you imagine that you will say has been the best of your marriage 5 years from this month?
11. How does your spouse most love to be loved? How do you most love to be loved?
12. Assuming time and money are not current obstacles, what one great thing would you love to do again with your partner?

Note: this is not positive thinking as in ignoring life’s problems; it is upward focusing about the problems. It is solution focused rather than blame / responsibility focused.

The Heaviest Emotion (David Ducklow)

This blog is from my son, David Ducklow who is now part of our counselling team. These words are from his blogspot, entitled “Grace & Peace To You.” You might want to sign up to get them regularly. Here are David’s thoughts on the heaviest emotion.

When I was at university, I would hear well-intentioned, married staff members talk about how singleness is a gift. But at the same time, you could hear a tinge of ‘poor you’ in their voices as they empathically looked at us, hoping that we would not remain this way for much longer. I was not impressed.

“Sure,” I thought, “maybe singleness is a gift. But if this is true, then loneliness must be a gift as well.”

At around this time I concluded that I was satisfied with the single life…  360 days a year. Except for days like February 14, December 24 and 25 and 31 and my birthday, I was alright with my non-marital status.

This is not a blog to solve the problems of single men and women, because we have no more or less problems than you or anyone else. We just need encouragement, someone to change the subject now and then, and a helping hand because loneliness is the heaviest emotion. And at one point or another, everyone needs to carry it.

Updated September, 2015.

A Memoir of a Marriage (Remix)

I have been reading a book by Wendy Plump entitled “Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage.” Because I mention the book does not mean that I recommend it for your reading; in fact I do not recommend it particularly. There is a chapter entitled “The Efficacy Of Therapy” where the author designs a kind of therapy instruction card for couples in crisis. I would like to give some comment to the several things that she says. (The author’s words are in italics.)

One, everything doesn’t have to be solved in one session. And, in fact, it will not! Short-term marital therapy is usually 8 to 12, one or two hour sessions over several months, and, of course,  we want the “problem” solved immediately. It really does take time to re-create what has been lost through ignorance or carelessness.

Two, be clear about your need. I often sit with people who think I am reading their minds. I find this humorous – or at least I used to – that people submit their intelligence to someone who is looking at them with care and concentration. Please do not forget that your purpose is for concrete advice and direction and not just consolation. So get what it is you want and need.

Three, remember that it is the two of you who matter most. It is very easy to allow the therapist to intrude herself or himself into the marriage. A therapeutic triangle is when the therapist stands outside of the marital dyad and observes, wonders and considers. As Wendy Plump says, “it is you and your spouse against the world, not you and your therapist.”

Four, each person in the marital dyad needs to take some responsibility for the efficacy of your therapy. The therapist may be marvelous in every way but the therapist cannot make the changes that the couple needs to make. The couple is really the expert on how their marriage can work as well as how their marriage is unworkable.

Five, be willing to hear that you screwed up royally and need to make amends… and then make amends. It is so common to use excuses, or explanations, or “context” to avoid personal responsibility. In my experience, no one moves ahead without consistent and thoroughly thoughtful apology.

Six, there are many ways to get out of the woods. If you are not going forward in your marital therapy with one counsellor, you can switch. There are times when you need consolation and support and there are other times when you need confrontation and challenge. Also, therapy is not necessarily better or more efficient then good friends, a supportive community, and the consolation and direction from healthy parents.

Seven, and most important, understand that you can bear it. Of course, most of us do not want to bear the responsibility or challenge of change. A competent therapist will help a couple defuse their emotion and increase their thinking. At least, that is the goal.

This is pretty good advice, whatever you might think of the book. Wendy Plump summarizes that “therapy has its value, but it remains a stubbornly limited one. I’m not sure that therapy can rescue any marriage…. A therapist will listen and listen and listen, which is one of the things you need most. Rescuing the marriage seems a tall order. But there is a chance that therapy can rescue you. Perhaps the expectation should end there. It does seem like enough.

Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage” by Wendy Plump, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.