I had the opportunity to speak to marriage and family expert, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs recently. In our recent conversation, we talked about how Dr. Eggerichs first became interested in the topic of marriage and family; the biggest secret to successful parenting; and the key ingredients to a successful marriage.
Here are the valuable insights he’s gained through his years of research and experience.
Cassandra: You’re recognized as an expert in the topics of marriage and family, and I’m curious how you first became interested in this type of work early on in your career?
Emerson: Well, it was partly because of my own family problems; my mom and dad divorced when I was one year old, and then they remarried each other when I was two. Then after that, they had challenges in their marriage and separated for five or six years. The turmoil of that resulted in personal woundedness and pain. So those experiences caused me to try to figure out how mommies and daddies get along? How do you parent? How do you do marriage? That’s always been in my DNA.
Cassandra: What do you think is the biggest secret to successful parenting?
Emerson: One of the points I make is that children are moral, spiritual beings. We can’t control the ultimate outcome in them, although we want to. We can control them when they are tots; we can prevent them from crossing a busy street. However, as they move into preadolescence and adolescence, you can tell them to say thank you, but it doesn’t mean that they will have a grateful heart. This is intimidating to parents on one level, but we have to figure out what our boundaries are, and if we are really capable of doing what God has called us to do. It’s also the key to appealing to a child. When they know we are trying to control them, you know like a helicopter Mom, spying and controlling constantly, as they get older, they will close off to us. So there has to be an element of faith: we need to know that if we create the most loving environment, then we’re going to best motivate our children to choose our faith and values.
Cassandra: Let’s talk about marriage and relationships; what would you say are the key ingredients to a successful marriage?
Emerson: The University of Washington studied over 2,000 couples for 20 years and had this love laboratory with clinicians and social workers. They had people wired psychologically so they could take their hearts’ BPM’s (beats per minute,). The study was done on husbands and wives who were living in this place, and after a while, they let their hair down and just had at it. The researchers told them: “Nothing is going to be revealed here without your permission.” So they studied the couples when they had disagreements and noticed differences in male and female behaviors such as 85% of those who stonewall and withdraw were the husbands. 85% –that’s not stereotypical, that’s not pinning it on the males, that’s what men do: they drop it.
When this happened, they noticed the men’s heartbeats were 99 beats per minute: that’s warrior mode. That’s the number of heartbeats per minute a man has before he throws a hand grenade to save his buddy, and that’s why a husband feels like she’s trying to pick a fight when she’s not trying to pick a fight. However, psychologically it feels like she’s going to war with him; it feels like she’s an enemy, which is why he shuts down. He goes into another room and she chases him because she needs to connect. So then you have this huge misunderstanding.
The conclusion they came to at the University of Washington is that the two key ingredients for a successful marriage are love and respect. When love and respect were not there (in other words, when there was a sense of hostility and contempt, the opposites of love and respect), it did not work. It was gender specific; women would talk in acts of hostility, “I feel like my husband hates me.” Even though she needed respect, she tended to filter it through the love grid. Most men are assured of a women’s love, so he didn’t filter it through a lack of love as much as he felt it was contempt.
Readers, we would love to hear from you: what has been your biggest secret to successful parenting or your successful marriage?
Cassandra Soars has published various national magazine articles on a wide range of topics, including life in Mozambique, Africa, where she lived for five years. Her first book Love Like Fire: The Story of Heidi Baker is available on Amazon.