Protect the Blindside of Your Marriage from Small Hits

06/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Two days before Sam Bradford was made the number one pick in this year's NFL draft, the league gave a $1 million gift to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine. This money is to support the research of long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma. Why? There's an increasing body of evidence that when it comes to degenerative brain diseases, it's not just the highlight reel knockouts that are showing long-term effects, but also the small concussive impacts that take place repeatedly throughout each game and practice. So what does this have to do with marriage?

There's a growing body of evidence that the small hits over time to your relationship can have a degenerative effect as well. Furthermore, mounting research is showing that tiny gestures can also help a marriage reap great rewards.

Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a Michigan-based research professor and marriage- and-family therapist, spent more than 22 years charting the love lives of 373 married couples, the longest-running study of marriage conducted in North America. The conclusion of her research is that it's not the marquee items like sexual incompatibility or communication problems that deliver the knockout blow to marriage, it's the day-to-day disappointments of what one spouse expects and what the other delivers. In her new book, 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Dr. Orbuch gives advice on eliminating the small "concussions" and instead replacing them with gestures of affirmation and attention.

Unlike football, we love our "opponent," which makes the effort that much more rewarding. Heck, we get a ring to start the game. For any championship team that has a ring, they'll tell you maintaining that level of excellence is even harder than reaching the pinnacle. To translate that into marriage, we also need to maintain a level of commitment equal or greater than the one we spent to get our rings.

This means avoiding the metaphorical hits in marriage. Renowned psychologist Dr. John Gottman observed 700 newlywed couples for 15 minutes each. At the end of his study, he was able to predict which couples would divorce with 94 percent accuracy based on the number of positive to negative interactions between the husband and wife. Dr. Gottman concluded that for every one negative exchange, a couple would need five positive gestures to offset that single negative.

You can imagine how challenging marriage is when the negatives begin to stack up. How long before we get punch drunk and decide it's time to retire or change teams? High profile pros like Bradford have a lot support around them with a heaping pile of positive feedback and encouragement. Unfortunately, not all marriages are given that same level of support. But it doesn't have to be that way.

In professional football they're working to make the game safer by changing the rules to limit the number of head-to-head blows. In marriage there is no rulebook everyone follows. That doesn't mean, though, that we can't all make changes to lessen the blows that can negatively effect our marriage. As Dr. Orbuch and Dr. Gottman show in their research, it doesn't take a big hit to crush a marriage, small thumps can be just as game ending. To protect our own top draft picks, we need to defend each other's blind side from the hits -- big and especially small -- we never see coming.