Therapists can look at a piece of research in different ways. Gottman says the 65% of American men are incapable of readily accepting influence. This is a staggering number, as I mentioned in earlier posts when high double digits show up in social science research, something important is attempting to be described.
Gottman is quick to assign a gendered tag to criticism, yet I wonder if the refusal to accept influence at the heart of it all?
Helping women to prevent “harsh start-up” is a core tenet of Gottman Method couple therapy.
Just about every couples therapy model out there points out the problem with phrases like: “you always.. and you never…” forms of criticism. But socialization may be at the heart of this problem.
The problem just might be starting with men in the first place.
Men are socialized to pursue influence, respect, and power. They like having it. They like getting it. They are culturally rewarded for achievement, often accumulating influence, respect, and authority in the process. Control, respect, and Power define the most regressive aspects of what it means to be male.
Giving up such essential male prerogatives is a hard and high price to pay for intimacy.
Accept Your Partner’s Influence.
This is such an important skill for all partners to acquire in the intimate relationship…as early as humanly possible.
Gottman’s research reports that even in the initial months of marriage, men who have to capacity to accept influence have, by far, significantly more happy unions. They are also far less likely to divorce than men who robustly and regularly resist their wives’ influence. Gottman says that when a husband is not willing to share power with his spouse, there is more than a 4 out of 5 chance that his marriage will implode eventually.
Gottman explains that he is not advocating that men surrender their power wholesale, it is more about expanding a quality of permeability. Husbands can learn to accept a relational norm that their wives will seek to exert influence, and do not expect resistance in using influence from their spouse. This free flow of power is a trait found in the most stable and robust of marriages.
The inability to accept influence sometimes can blindside an otherwise sensitive man. The cultural blinder of patriarchy may impact a man’s ability even to notice male privilege, and an inability to accept influence quickly inhabits and inhibits his defensive posture.
Try making “accepting influence” part of how you roll as a couple.
Early in your relationship, notions of influence are still being worked out and may remain largely unexplored.
You have to both decide what kind of partner you want to have, and what kind of partner you want to be.
Gottman recommends an elasticity around accepting influence. He urges couples to cultivate an appreciation for how you can “yield to win.” By yielding to win, Gottman is describing a negotiated relational space that makes room for influence.
But this room may emerge out of conflict which takes us to an important noticing. How is conflict managed between the couple? Who escalates and why?
Gottman tells men that when we acquire the ability to overcome our cultural programming and actually be accepting influence. It is an effective way in turn, have influence with our partner.
This is where Gottman discusses the relationship between a husband’s accepting influence and the critical cascade that brings on the four horsemen. I like to think of a man’s refusal to accept influence as the “First Horseman.”
Gottman once wrote that “….wives of men who accept their influence are far less likely to be harsh with their husbands when broaching a difficult marital topic.” Reciprocal influence is a vital skill for preventing and resolving marital conflict. But this is a skill to be acquired early, and particularly by men. Strong influence accepting skills will prevent an excess of power struggles and emotional gridlock at a later point in the marriage.”
Learn about the importance of accepting influence. Call us today to learn more.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.