Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Small Talk, Big Impact

Dov Finkelstein, LCSW

“I’ll be home tonight around 7 p.m.” “Great. Do you want pasta or burgers for dinner?” Can small talk bridge marital divides? Here’s how everyday, seemingly inconsequential conversations promote greater shalom bayis and may actually be the glue that helps couples stick together.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Fifteen years ago, Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist and professor, conducted a landmark study to find out why certain marriages thrive — and why others end in divorce. But he wasn’t interested in coming up with another theory; he wanted proof. So he devised a scientifically sound method for analyzing relationships.

To entice married couples to join his study, Dr. Gottman offered an apartment overlooking the ocean for a three-day period. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., all of the couple’s interactions were recorded by video camera. Dr. Gottman then studied the tapes of the spouses who reported being very satisfied in their relationships.

At the time, there was a popular theory that couples who disclosed a lot of information about themselves had the most fulfilling relationships. So Dr. Gottman was expecting to see a lot of heart-to-heart conversations on his video tapes.

Instead, he saw the opposite. The happily married couples had countless small, fairly meaningless conversations. One wife might say, “I read a great article today.” Her husband would reply, “What was it about?” Or the exchange would sound something like: “Honey, can you bring me a cup of coffee?” “Sure, as soon as I’m finished with the pancakes.”

Dr. Gottman was surprised — and confused. These interactions appeared to offer no clue as to what made these relationships so fulfilling. Then, one day, after studying a few more tapes, the underlying dynamic became clear. He realized that happily married couples have many more positive interactions than negative ones. In fact, the positive to negative ratio is 5 to 1 during a disagreement, and rises to 20 to 1 during non-conflict times.


Building a Shalom Bayis Bank Account

You might think it would be difficult to engage in twenty good interactions for every bad one. But, in reality, those positive moments accumulate very quickly. In every conversation, regardless of the topic, there are numerous chances to connect. Every time a spouse makes what Dr. Gottman calls a “bid,” there is a chance for a positive interaction. Bids are any gestures — whether verbal (i.e. speech) or nonverbal (like smiling or offering a napkin) — that send a message to the partner. When a spouse responds to the bid, he or she earns a “plus” in Gottman’s system. In this manner, a couple having dinner together can have as many as 100 positive interactions in a ten-minute span.

These positive responses can be high-energy, low-energy, passive, or attentive. For example, if your husband was having a tough day, you might say, “I can understand why that was hard” or “I feel so bad that you had to go through that.” The responses can also be as simple as “uh-huh” or “okay.”

Most couples can manage the “sure, honey” responses. But how do wives find the time to rack up 100 positive interactions when they’re also busy playing mother, employee, housekeeper, and chef?

The key is to think creatively. One easy solution is to create small rituals of connection. For example, in the morning, tell your husband at least one thing that you’re looking forward to doing that day. During the work day, find time to speak at least once, even if it’s just for a minute. In the evening, take a walk together. You should also plan regular date nights. Some couples set aside twenty minutes in the evening to talk about how their day went. Of course, during these moments, it is essential for the listener to be attentive .


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"