Psychologists have been working to understand what makes a relationship last, and in the quest to finding the answer to this question many studies have been done over the past decades. When people are in a committed relationship the usual expectation is that the relationship will last a lifetime, and that love will get them through the challenging times. However, the reality is that relationships, even great loves, involve some work. Having longevity in a relationship takes some skill. Many of us have yet not learned how to negotiate our way through the maze of relationship problems in order to build a lasting relationship.
Psychologists have done many research studies over the years looking for the things that hold long term relationships together. What are the secrets of why some couples stay together for the long haul? It is not an absence of conflict, or increased physical intimacy that serve as predictors of long lasting relationships. Actually, arguments may be constructive for long lasting relationships. There are positive ways to resolve conflicts that can lead to a stronger bond. Couples are more likely to succeed if they have a healthy balance between positive and negative and interactions. According to research by Dr. John Gottman, author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, strong relationships have a 5 to 1 ratio, 5 parts positive to 1 part negative. As for couples that split up, they tend to experience more negative than positive interactions.
I imagine that by now you may be wondering what precisely are these positive interactions?
- Showing appreciation for what your partner does and remembering the good times you’ve both shared.
- Expressing your joy and sharing when positive things happen.
- Indicating your concern rather than getting defensive. Demonstrating that you are concerned about what ever might be troubling your partner.
- Apologizing if you say something hurtful or or resort to name calling.
- Expressing affection such as saying “I love you” giving hugs and holding hands.
- Showing that you care by making a call, helping with household tasks, or bringing home flowers.
- Being playful, this includes joking around, being silly together and even a little good natured teasing can be play.
Here are some strategies that anyone can use for improving their relationship. Many people will find that they need to work at developing these skills, but learning them increases the probability of having a long lasting relationship and can make life more enjoyable overall. Many times it is easier to learn how to implement these through seeking professional help from a couples therapist.
Learn to sooth yourself and calm down- Staying calm enables us to see the big picture rather than over-reacting to momentary stresses. If we become highly stressed our less thoughtful parts of our brain take over, we can go into survival mode, and our defensiveness and anger can get out of control. Learning to do self-hypnosis or meditation can be very helpful with this.
Validate your partner- Show empathy for what your partner is experiencing, let him or her know that you can appreciate how they are feeling and what the experience is (even if you do not agree) Take responsibility for what your partner might blame you for, and apologize for your role in the situation. Compliment your partner on their ability to make their needs known.
Listen and speak non-defensively- Take time to focus on the things that are good about the relationship, rather than thinking about what you’d like to change, and share these thoughts with your partner by giving compliments and showing appreciation. This may be a challenging task especially at times when we may feel irritated, but the positive effect on the relationship is invaluable.
Even relationships that are in deep trouble can be salvaged if the couple is willing and able to devote time intherapy and work on implementing changes in how they interact with each other. A therapist’s role in Couples Therapy is not about taking sides or finding which half of the couple is “right” or healthy. It is about helping the couple in getting past the negativity, learning to do what works to strengthen the bond, and finding ways to promote the healing of past wounds so that the couple can move forward and have a happy life together.