As a therapist working with couples I find that couples fights have similar themes. Some of the issues coming to surface is money, chores, sex, parenting styles, and communication issues about all of the above. In general, people get tired of the same fights and I believe their intentions are to really improve their relationships. In my experience, when each person in the relationship is willing to address the underlying feelings that contribute to these arguments, progress can be made. We all get so upset that our partner spent too much money, didn’t pay enough attention to us, or slacked on the household chores that we sometimes stop doing the most important thing: listening.
Some of most important aspect of a successful relationship is respect for and attention to your partner’s feelings. It is important to not be distracted when your partner is hurting and address their needs. Awareness and understanding what your partner is experiencing can help bringing collaborate support into your relationship. However, the partner sharing their feelings and needs has a critical job. If you criticize, blame, or accuse your partner as you express what you are feeling, it is hard for your partner to listen.
According to research, many couples start to come apart seven years after the wedding because our culture doesn’t teach us how to maintain and strengthen our emotional bonds. That’s where The Gottman Institute (relationship expert) comes in. The seven ideas below, drawn from four decades of real science, will make your love last a lifetime.
1. Seek help early.
The average couple waits six years before seeking help for relationship problems. And keep in mind, half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years. This means the average couple lives with unhappiness for far too long. If you feel there’s any sign of trouble in your marriage early on, seek help.
2. Edit yourself.
The most successful couples are kind to each other. They avoid saying every critical thought when discussing touchy topics, and they will find ways to express their needs and concerns respectfully without criticizing or blaming their partners.
3. Soften your “start up.”
Arguments often “start up” because one partner escalates the conflict by making a critical or contemptuous remark. Bringing up problems gently and without blame works much better and allows couples to calmly engage in conflict.
4. Have high standards.
Happy couples have high standarts for each other. The most successful couples are those who, even as newlyweds, refused to accept hurtful behavior from one another. Low levels of tolerance for bad behavior in the beginning of a relationship equals a happier couple down the road.
5. Learn to repair and exit the argument.
Happy couples have learned how to exit an argument, or how to repair the situation before an argument gets completely out of control. Examples such as: using humor; offering a caring remark (“I understand that this is hard for you”); making it clear you’re on common ground (“We’ll tackle this problem together”); and, in general, offering signs of appreciation for your partner and their feelings along the way.
If an argument gets too heated, take a 20-minute break, and agree to approach the topic again when you are both calm.
6. Focus on the positives.
In a happy marriage, while discussing problems, couples make at least five as many positive comments to and about each other and their relationship as negative ones. For example, a happy couple will say “We laugh a lot” instead of “We never have any fun.” A good marriage must have a rich climate of positivity. Make regular deposits to your emotional back accounts.
As Dr. Gottman says, “Everything Positive you do in a relationship is foreplay.” If you are having problems in your relationship, try looking for positive ways to engage your partner. Even if there is conflict, making a kind remark, or a thoughtful gesture can go a long way if your relationship is stuck in a rut.