There are many good things happening at my alma mater, the University of Georgia, these days. Unfortunately, not much of it is occurring on the football field. But please remember that football is only a game and that we are first and foremost an academic institution. (I usually say that when we lose to Florida. I don’t say that on the rare occasions when we lose to the You-Know-Where Institute of Technology. That is because I go into a fetal position. It is hard to say anything meaningful when in a fetal position.)
I call your attention to a very important study recently released from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at UGA that says a good way to improve a marriage is to show gratitude to your spouse. The study arrived at this conclusion after asking 468 married people via a telephone survey about such things as their financial well-being, their demand/withdrawal communications (that sounds serious) and expressions of spousal gratitude.
As far as I can tell, the authors choose not to call me even though I used to be bigger than a breadbox at my alma mater and am well known for having opinions on everything from aardvarks to zithers and for being more than willing to share those opinions whether anyone wants to hear them or not.
I’m thinking maybe the researchers couldn’t find my number. That’s a bit strange because robocallers seem to be able to get me with little trouble, although none seem to give a rip about my demand/withdrawal communications.
Allen Barton, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral research associate at the university’s Center for Family Research says that “even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.” I am grateful to hear that.
When next The Woman Who Shares My Name attempts to sneak broccoli past me at the dinner table, which clearly qualifies as “distress and difficulty” in my house, I will say, “Thank you for your attempts to disguise this most objectionable foodstuff by smothering it in cheese sauce, but I will eat a live catfish before I will eat broccoli.” Hopefully, she will say, “Thank you for at least allowing me to make the effort to have you ingest something that is clearly good for your health. By the way, do you know how ridiculous you look with that live catfish in your mouth?”
Barton says, “This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages,” and adds, “We think it is quite important as it highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict.”
Applause for the good work from the non-football side of the UGA team, but I think we might have a third-and-long situation here. I have found that adept communications with one’s spouse goes much deeper than mere gratitude.
In an effort to more adeptly communicate with The Woman Who Shares My Name while in a conflict situation (which has been most of my adult life), I once sought advice from one of my heroes, the late Dr. William O. Inman Jr., of Brunswick, Georgia, who was married to my first cousin, Bebee. In addition to being a highly-respected physician, he was also one of the wisest and kindest men I have had the privilege to know. (If you remember the “Marcus Welby, M.D.” series on television, you have some idea of what Bill Inman was like.)
I asked Dr. Bill how he had been able to maintain and nurture a happy marriage that at that time went well beyond a half-century. If anybody would know, he would. Making sure Bebee was not in earshot, he told me quietly, “You only need to know four phrases: ‘Yes, ma’am,’ ‘No ma’am,’ ‘Thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry.’” He said, “When she starts fussing at me, I just tune her out. When I don’t hear any more noise, I smile at her and say one of those four things. It always seems to work.”
That is excellent advice and I believe it worthy of inclusion in any future studies on positive marital outcomes. I only ask that the authors at UGA give due credit to Dr. Inman and that they note he was Vanderbilt University graduate. UGA and Vandy have something in common: Their football team isn’t so hot, either.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb