Some random thoughts:
* I'm happy to report that the kind of stuff he describes the "masters" (people who have long-term and supportive marriages) is stuff I've seen my parents doing. Like the "bids" and response: "Oh, look at the beautiful bird outside!" "Oh, wow, yeah, that is nice! Thank you for showing it to me." It seems kind of stupid written out, but it's those little connection things that are important. And the tiny little acts of being considerate.
* They talk about bad relationships where the two partners sitting near each other puts them in fight-or-flight mode. That makes me sad, but I also must say I've had work situations or friend-of-a-friend situations (e.g., someone's boyfriend wants to come and hang out with us but there's something about him that just rubs me the wrong way) where I've felt that, where being around a certain person just put me on edge, and likely I did the same (without trying to) to the other person.
* " Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked." I've had situations where I expected to be attacked. I'm not so good at attacking back but I know I've been in situations where I was instantly tense and wary and it made things work out worse. (I'm wondering if part of my problems with the meeting Sunday is that I expected it was going to be tense, and so I was already in alert-mode, and it just made everything seem more vivid.)
* Also, the issue comes up of what you bring to the relationship: "kindness and generosity" or "contempt, criticism, and hostility." And again, I've seen that with people - some people try really hard (at my best, I do) to kind of overlook the other person's mistakes and focus instead on either what's shared or what is good. But there are other people who are so fast to jump in and snark at the person, or to say little undercutting things. And this brings up so many thoughts....the quotation from Dean Koontz (and I saw him interviewed on EWTN, of all places, a while back. I just thought of him as a "suspense writer" but there also does seem to be an interesting philosophy underlying a lot of what he writes) about how we choose kindness or hatred in our interactions, and how that has larger outward ripples into the world. And it brings up something we were talking about in Sunday school last week, about the idea (the Scripture was from Haggai, it was about "does a ritually clean thing make all things it touches ritually clean" vs. "does a ritually unclean thing make all it touches unclean?" and apparently the answer was "no" in the first case and "yes" in the second) and the idea that it's a lot harder to resist the sort of negative pressure you get in the world - think of a group of people griping about their jobs - than it is to be a positive force.
And it's especially hard to give back kindness when you're met with hostility. Or when your past experience with a person is that they meet you with hostility.
* The question also comes up about how you think about kindness: is it something you're born with, or something you just "have" as a quality...or is it more like a muscle or a skill, that you can develop with work and attention? And I like the idea of kindness as a skill, because that means even if we aren't very good at it at one point in our lives, we can work on it and get better. (And that also suggests that there's hope for some people.)
* The article also notes that it's okay to express anger, when you're angry, but not to "throw spears." I've also seen that happen, when someone gets angry at someone and then they just SAY something, something totally unrelated to the argument, but because they know it will either hurt or get a reaction from the other person. I've probably done it myself, but I find I'm most conscious of it when I see two other people arguing, I actually kind of suck my breath in and go "low blow" to myself or "wow, that was out of bounds" when the unrelated barb was hurled.
* And a longer quotation:
"One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. From the research of the Gottmans, we know that disasters see negativity in their relationship even when it is not there. An angry wife may assume, for example, that when her husband left the toilet seat up, he was deliberately trying to annoy her. But he may have just absent-mindedly forgotten to put the seat down.
Or say a wife is running late to dinner (again), and the husband assumes that she doesn’t value him enough to show up to their date on time after he took the trouble to make a reservation and leave work early so that they could spend a romantic evening together. But it turns out that the wife was running late because she stopped by a store to pick him up a gift for their special night out. Imagine her joining him for dinner, excited to deliver her gift, only to realize that he’s in a sour mood because he misinterpreted what was motivating her behavior. The ability to interpret your partner’s actions and intentions charitably can soften the sharp edge of conflict."
In a way, this is one of those "This is water" kinds of things, where you can stop and go "This person did this not to hurt me, but because something else in their life is bothering them, and they just happened to lash out." Now, granted, there are some people who are destructive-minded jerks out there who ARE out to hurt other people for whatever agenda, but I think most people, the sort of garden-variety unpleasantness they generate, it's because of other stuff going on. And in a person who is normally considerate, them doing something out-of-character jerky should be a red flag that something is wrong: they're sick, they're hurting, something is bothering them.
I know when I'm hurting physically (and I am today; it's very humid and with the a/c in the classroom being out, I could feel my intercostal muscles starting to cramp up), I'm less tolerant and less prone to be nice. If I think about it, I can make the effort. But it's harder.
* The truth is, though, this article shouldn't be just about - or even mainly about - marriage. The kinds of "good relationship" and "bad relationship" things listed, by and large, come up in any relationship: parent-and-child (especially grown child), friends, co-workers, employees, fellow congregants, other family members....It's hard for a person to be consistently kind and generous (and to forgive apparent slights) but maybe the world would be a little friendlier if people (and I include myself) tried harder.