Stopping arguing doesn’t necessarily stop divorce

A new study from Ohio State University is challenging long-help assumptions about marital happiness, arguing, and how to stop divorce. Married couples are often assumed to start out relatively blissful and then dissolve into bickering and fighting. However, it turns out that a couple’s level of fighting and happiness are both stable factors over the course of a relationship. Researches identified three types of marriages among 2,000 married couples over two decades: low-conflict, (16% of participants); moderate-conflict, (60%); and high-conflict (22%). They found that these groups stayed more or less consistent over the 20 year study.

Interestingly, the study found that the frequency of argument did not necessarily predict how happy or unhappy a couples was. Rather, levels of positivity, intimacy, and resolution skills were more important. In other words, a marriage that had disagreements did not mean misery, and a marriage devoid of conflict did not necessarily stop divorce.

Certain couples were designated as “volatile,” meaning they had high conflict but also mid to high happiness ratings. These couples may have disagreements often, but I’m guessing they are strong on other skill areas such as resolution and intimacy. After all, it is inevitable that you and your spouse will be at odds about things; the key is knowing how to deal with that without causing hurt feelings.

The most divorce prone group was described as “hostile”. Interestingly, it didn’t matter whether or not these couples argued much–they were miserable. Hostility is a pattern of negativity that can take many forms. Dr. Heitler and I have talked before about how toxic even small bits of negativity can be. Habits that are all not outright forms of conflict–such as sarcasm, put-downs, avoidance, the silent treatment, and passive-aggressive acts–can be just as tragically damaging to a marriage. According to the study, these are the danger signs to watch out for the most in your relationship.

This study brings up some very good advice for thinking about marriage. Marriage is a huge decision–it is a commitment for life. Chances are you are marrying your loved one because you intend that relationship to last and stop divorce. Take a good long look at how you interact as a couple now. Although you both will continue to change and grow as people, this right now is the basis for how you will interact for life. It is especially important to look for warning signs of abuse and control in your relationship. Does your fiance do things that make you seriously uncomfortable? These behaviors will NOT disappear after you wed. This is the time to seriously evaluate if you want to be legally, emotionally and spiritually bound together.

At the same time, I firmly believe any relationship is open to change with the right tools and dedication. I would be interested to see the statistics for relationship counseling among these subjects. Did any of them try couples counseling or marriage enrichment to improve their marriage? While this study shows even “hi-conflict” marriages can be happy, I would argue that if couples made the switch to low conflict, they could be even happier. Conflict takes up time and energy that could instead be put towards building a loving and supportive marriage. Real transformation can be accomplished with skill based learning and practice. We all have the ability to change our habits if we truly dedicate ourselves to the task. So don’t just settle for the marriage you have if you feel it could be better. Go out and chase your happily-ever-after!

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Making marriage work by doing the dishes

For most of human history, people have lived in societies where what you do and how you do it was largely determined by your birth. One of the most enduring roles has been gender. No matter what your status (peasant or royalty) In almost every culture, women have been the managers of the interior world, while men work outside the home to provide it with resources. Making marriage work was less about happiness and more about the ability to fend of starvation, keep a roof over your head, and have lots and lots of babies. Luckily, times have changed, the business of staying alive is easier, and both men and women have many options for what to do with their lives and how to order their home life.

Women who take advantage of this and pursue careers in addition to having a family often find themselves between a rock and hard place. Managing a household alone is tough! After all, there are professionals—nannies, accountants, designers, plumbers, and personal assistants—who keep full time jobs doing just one fraction of what it takes to run a home. Plus, this whole women working thing has been uncharted territory. There are no guidelines on how to divvy up housework between spouses. This has lead to frustration, exhaustion and all sorts of marriage problems.

The good news is it seems like we’re entering a new phase where, slowly, couples are making marriage work by redefining household roles. Dan Seaborn of the Dover Post has written about a new study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor. According to this 2010 survey, husbands and wives are spending about the same amount of time doing chores, especially in marriages where both work full time. That’s pretty darn impressive!

“In another study by the Pew Research Center in 2007, 62 percent of couples surveyed said sharing household chores was the third most important ingredient in a successful marriage after faithfulness and sex ––  I’m glad sex rates higher than chores!”

I agree.

Seaborn also has a lot of great advice on making marriage work with smart chore sharing. First off, setting good patterns of behavior is always easier than changing old ones. “Couples really need to make a plan for how this gets done, instead of making assumptions. It should be one of the first things a newly married couple discusses before patterns are established.”

Second, he suggests setting mutual definitions of what a chore means. Is clearing the table just putting the dishes on the counter, or is it putting them in the dishwasher and wiping down the table? Does doing the laundry involve folding and putting the clothes away? How much time should be spent on which activity? Communicate clearly about your expectations, and don’t hesitate to speak up about your frustrations in a tactful manner.

Part of the joys of marriage is knowing that you have someone there for you, a partner to go through life with and to give you the help and support you need. I have a hunch that taking care of the house together will be good for marriage. When you work together on a project, you feel closer and more intimate. It may seem like a mess at times, but make sure you take moments to step back and appreciate all you have created together.

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Name that baby!

What did you call me??!

So you’re having a baby (or thinking about having a baby)! Now you’ve got nine months to figure out what it’s going to be called for the rest of its life. Yikes!!

As Shakespeare’s Juliet famously asked, “what’s in a name?” Well, a lot actually. A name can denote family history, cultural identity, values, expectations…in fact, names have even been linked to predicting people’s behavior in all sorts of ways.

Psychological studies propose that it is how others react to our names that leads to behavior trends. For example, a child with a more unusual name might be teased often as a child, leading him or her to develop low self esteem which effects their life course later on. One UCLA study showed that adults with “unattractive names” faced more challenges in their social and work life than others. However, this shouldn’t prevent you from giving your baby a unique name. As baby names researcher Neil Street says, “It is not clear which is more influential – a really strange name, or the parents who gave that name to the child.” In some cases, giving a child and very damaging or offensive name can be considered a form of child-abuse and lead to legal action.

The popularity of certain names fluctuates wildly over time, and is especially influenced by celebrity names (e.g. Jennifer, Brittany, Tom, etc.) On the whole, parents seem to be getting more and more creative with baby names, most often changing common spellings, but sometimes going off the deep end. There’s a child in China named “@” and a little girl in New Zealand named “Talula does the Hula in Hawaii.” For more examples, check out these celebrity’s baby names below. And you want some geeky fun, check out the graphs and charts at

In the end, as you think carefully about a name, make sure know how to communicate with your spouse. Have thorough conversations about the underlying concerns and desires you both have about baby names. Be aware of naming traditions in your respective families and cultures. For instance, naming a child after a relative is a huge sign of respect in some cultures. But among Ashkenazi Jews, naming a child after a living relative is considered akin to a death wish for the relative. Only one person in a family can have a certain name at one time. And if you get stuck on different ideas, consider some win-win strategies such as picking one for the first name and another for a middle name.

In the end, the name is less important than how it is used—called out with love, respect, and joy. No matter what their name, if they have a pair of loving partners in a great marriage to raise them, they’ll probably turn out ok.


Unusual celebrity baby names

1. Apple(Gwyneth Paltrow)

2. Maddox and Knox ( Angelina Joli and Brad Pitt)

3. Sunday Rose Kidman ( Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban)

4. Ocean, Sonnet and True (Forest Whitaker)

5. Pilot Inspektor (Jason Earl from My Name Is Earl)

6.Scout, Tallulah and Rumer. (Bruce Willis and Demi Moore)

7.Brooklyn, cruz and Romeo ( The Beckhams )

8.Rocco (Madonna and Guy Ritchie)

10. Fuchsia (Sting)

11. Kal-El Coppola (Nicholas Cage)

12. Moxie Crimefighter and Zolten ( Penn Jilette )

13. Moon Unit, Dweezil, and Diva Muffin (Frank Zappa)

14. Racer, Rogue Rocket and Rebel ( belong to Director Robert Rodriguez)

15. Memphis Eve (U2 Lead Singer Bono)

16. Coco (Courtney Cox and David Arquette)

17. Sage Moonblood ( Sylvester Stallone)

18. Magnus ( Will Ferrell)

19. Calico and Sonora Rose ( Alice Cooper)

20. Nevis ( Nelly Furtado )

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Using Power of Two outside of the home

Hello Power-of-Two-verse! I’m Naomi, the new intern here in our Berkeley, CA office. You’ll be hearing a lot from me during the next few months as I take over the Power of Two blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ll be covering reviews, interviews, opinion pieces, marriage news, and Power of Two relationship tips. If there’s a topic you’d like to hear about, send your suggestion my way at

So what’s it like being a Po2 intern? Pretty awesome. Part of my job is to go through the entire Power of Two curriculum for editing and immersion. After even briefly being exposed to the program I’ve noticed a significant change in my relationships. I find myself thinking about things like “but” statements and positivity in my own interactions as well as others’. In short, Po2 doesn’t just teach you how to save a marriage; while this program is geared towards married and long-term committed pairs, it’s useful in your interactions with all sorts of relationships, from business to friendship. Really, any 1-on-1 situation in which you are dedicated to working together, making decisions and fostering a partnership.

You can see it first hand around the office here. Running a business takes a lot of great communication skills. It’s kind of like running a household with seven husbands and wives instead of two! And like a bad marriage, it can be really unpleasant. But unlike previous workplaces I’ve been a part of, at Po2 there is no passive aggressive commenting, disparaging dismissal of others’ comments, or sense that the employees are reluctant to talk to each other. Everyone actively listens to the person speaking and is supportive of their opinions, even when offering critiques (I hear a lot “yes…and…”). And when an upset happens, they are quick to apologize. The team really feels like a big, amazingly functional marriage. This really helps when things get stressful!

So why not try using the Power of Two skills outside the home? Next time your boss bugs you about that report for the 10 billionth time, cool down with emotion regulation, then use some I statements and win-win decision making to state your concerns and improve your professional relationship. I just wouldn’t give him a kiss and a squeeze to make things all better…not everything that works with your spouse will work in the office!

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SNL Pokes Fun at Government Compromise

I enjoyed the SNL opening this past weekend, which pokes fun at the last-minute agreement Congress reached to avoid a government shutdown.   The sketch refers to all the unhappy people involved in the agreement (a lose-lose), and stands in stark satirical contrast to the type of decision making we promote at Power of Two: Win-Win.

Conventional wisdom says that marriages only work because of compromise.   Dr. Heitler, on the other hand, argues that skilled couples can resolve any conflict in a way that makes both people feel truly happy, using a technique called win-win decision making.  With win-win decision making, couples dig beneath surface-level initial positions to discover the underlying concerns that are feeding their conflict.  Once both people understand the underlying emotions, fears and desires that are supporting each other’s initial positions, they find solutions that satisfy ALL of the concerns on the table.

Its amazing how creative thinking can generate a set of solutions (complicated problems usually require multiple solution components) that makes both people happy.

Alternatively a compromise leaves both parties feeling like they sacrificed something they wanted, and end up only partially happy.  Compromises may be necessary in the volatile and cynical world of politics, however in a marriage two individuals can find a surprising amount of common ground if they separate initial positions from underlying concerns, and think creatively about mutually satisfying solutions.

For more information about how to do win-win decision making, see this video from our online marriage counseling program, Power of Two Online.


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Psych Central just posted an article about communication pitfalls featuring Power of Two founder Dr. Susan Heitler.

Here’s the top 5 pitfalls list.

  1. Not knowing the rules
  2. Aiming for compromise
  3. Playing pin the tail on the donkey
  4. Letting escalating emotions take over
  5. Thinking that marriage is like walking

Got you curious? Here’s the article.

Want the good news?  You can learn how to communicate like a pro with a Power of Two Online membership.

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