In my last blog I gave you some great reasons why it is important for a long life to have happy relationships, specifically focusing on marriage.
John Gottman PhD and his Wife and research partner Julie Gottman from the University of Washington have some great tips I wanted to share with you on keeping your marriage a happy one.
Most couples think that a marriage should be “fair”, like if I scratch your back, you should scratch mine. But those with this mind set are usually in serious trouble. John Gottman says: “We become emotional accountants only when there’s something wrong with the relationship.” In 1977 a study was done by Bernard Murstein where he discovered that this kind of thinking was a characteristic of a failing relationship rather than a happy one. He found that in the best marriages a partner is really invested in the other’s partners interests, as opposed to just their own. The happiest couples have a high level of trust, which lets them give without expecting anything in return because they know their partner has their back.
Another important tip is that your partner isn’t a mind reader, so you should tell him or her exactly what you want, but it was found that in many successful marriages couples also understand each other’s feelings and needs without having to be told all the time. There is a balance that you must try and take on between communication, but also understanding your spouse verbally and non-verbally.
Do you and your partner raise your voice or have screaming fights? This doesn’t always mean you are headed for divorce. The Gottmans label three types of “happy-stable” marriages as “Volatiles”, “Validaters” and “Avoiders”. Each of these three styles have their pros and cons. Conflict avoiders as you might expect, avoid conflict, avoid expressing what they need from each other, and congratulate their relationship for being generally happy. They usually have clear boundaries and are separate people with separate interests. “Volatiles” which are basically the opposite of Conflict Avoiders,can be very passionate couples who argue a lot and they run the risk of devolving into constant bickering. The key is that even though happy volatile couples can have intense fights, they still balance arguments with kindness and attentiveness. Their debating can be characterized by a lot of laughter, shared amusement, and humor. They seem to love to debate and argue, but they are not disrespectful and insulting. Lastly the “Validating” couples have interactions characterized by ease and calm. They are somewhat expressive, but mostly neutral. They are kind of the intermediate between avoiders and the volatile couples. They put a lot of emphasis on supporting and understanding their partner’s point of view, and are often empathetic about their partner’s feelings.
On the flip side there are two types of Non-Happy, Non Stable types of Marriages. These are “Hostile” and “Hostile-Detached”. If you fall into one of these categorize you have more probability of a divorce in your future. “Hostile” Couples are like validators, except there are high levels of defensiveness on the part of both partners. There is usually a lot of criticism, “you always…” and “you never…” statements and whining. There is also a lot of contempt in the relationship. And the last type, “Hostile-Detached” are couples who are like two armies engaged in a mutually frustrating and lonely standoff. They snipe at each other during conflict, although the air is one of emotional detachment and resignation. Between both of these Non-Stable type relationships the “Hostile-Detached” couple are more likely to end in divorce because the “Hostile” couples regulate their negativity while “Hostile-Detached” do not.
Do you regularly feel the need to talk things out until both you and your spouse agree with each other? In reality sixty-nine percent of marriage problems are managed rather than solved, according to John Gottman’s research. “The Common lore is that conflict avoidance is a bad thing, but it really works for a lot of people to just ‘agree to disagree,” he says. The key is to avoid a “gridlock” conflict in which you can’t make headway in a recurring fight. At the bottom of these issues, the Gottmans have found, are core value differences that take couples by surprise. For instance, a fight about finances isn’t just about the cash but about the meaning of money, power, freedom, and security. You might not be able to find the perfect compromise, but by creating an open dialogue, you can discuss the issue without hurting feelings.
Think that gender differences are behind your mega fights? Men really are not from Mars and women from Venus.. we’re all just from Earth. As it turns out, “men are just as in touch with their emotions as women,” Julie Gottman says. “On the other hand, some women are very reluctant to express their negative emotions. So it balances out. There are more similarities than the culture believes.”
Feel like you are destined to repeat your parents’ relationship problems? How you carry your childhood baggage is more important than the fact that you have any. “Nobody escapes childhood without some crazy buttons and triggers, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great relationship.” John Gottman says. Tom Bradbury, PHD, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, coined the phrase “Enduring vulnerabilities” for those historical triggers. Certain words and actions might dig up old feelings and provoke a reaction. Make sure you and your partner understand what sets the other off, and avoid those weaknesses. Circumstances from your past could also prompt what psychologist call projective identification – an example is taking something you resent from your childhood and applying it to your partner. If you had a distant, cold parent, for instance, you might assume your partner is being distant and cold too. Instead of blaming your partner’s character, explain how the actions make you feel and what he or she can do to help you feel better.
I thought these were some great tips to share with you today, to help you keep your important relationships happy, which has been shown to help you lead a longer and healthier life.
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