Masters and Disasters | Marriage and Divorce


“It always happens the first Monday that we’re back in the office, back after the holiday…”

Happy Holidays…but only for some. At this time of year, there are common reports of the buckling weight of the season on the fragile institution of marriage. This one is from the Chicago Tribune.


Christmas season isn’t always the happiest time of the year for couples, according to a recent survey by the law firm Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, which found that divorce filings jump by nearly one-third following the holidays.

First comes Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas and New Year’s. And then there’s Divorce Day: the Monday after Christmas break, when the flood of divorce emails clogs attorney inboxes, said James McLaren, partner with McLaren & Lee, in South Carolina, and former president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. 

“It always happens the first Monday that we’re back in the office, back after the holiday…” McLaren said.

I think we can surely understand this assertion.  And in this post-election holiday, we are not getting a holiday from news about the election. (Is your family carefully avoiding any discussion about the political divides in this country? That will last only so long, typically. Tensions await those who rush into these topics.)  So let’s add THAT stress to the equation of the holidays.  Things are piling up.

Couples who are chronically unhappy might be in for a rough ride. But why are couples unhappy? And is there something that can be done today or even this season to help couples stay together?

Here is some hope. It seems to be real, honest, simple hope for a married couple in distress, even in this holiday season. The bottom line advice from this study is simple. Stay in tune with your spouse; stay tuned-in to what they are saying and seeing.

In an article entitled “Masters of Love“, we read this:

From the data they gathered, (researchers) separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

The story in the Atlantic describes a habit among unhappy couples to ‘turn away’ from their spouse, their comments, interests, and observations about say, an interesting bird. The author say that when one spouse says to another, “Hey, will you look at that bird over there?”, he is not actually asking a question. He is inviting a connection, a link, between husband and wife to do/see/observe something together. They call a statement like that a ‘bid’; an offer to engage.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

And then this clear insight:

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

The article calls us to heed this warning: “Contempt … is the number one factor that tears couples apart.” When the Apostle Paul wrote that ‘love keeps no record of wrong’, he was thinking the same thought. (1 Corinthians 13)

Oh my…what great advice. How easy and simple. How wonderfully anti-Selfie this is.

Engage your Spouse.

And Happy Holidays!

Published on

December 13, 2016


David Roseberry

David Roseberry leads the nonprofit ministry, LeaderWorks. He was the founding rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, and is the author of many books. He lives in Plano with his wife, Fran.

View more from David Roseberry


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