Psychologist Dr. John Gottman and his team at The Gottman Institute have spent many years researching what makes the difference between couples that stay together and those that divorce. Because of this research spanning 40 years, we no longer have to take the advice of family, friends, and the massive choice of self-help books on marriage that we could pour over.
So what does the research say?
Over a 24-hour period, 147 couples were invited to hang out in a purpose-made apartment at the University of Washington in Seattle. A BBC documentary dubbed it ‘The Love Lab’. Couples brought their groceries and spent the day doing typical couple stuff; watching TV, reading, making dinner, and also being observed by the psychologists.
A question is always asked, “but weren’t the couples nicer to each other because they knew they were observed,” and the answer was that they behaved as they usually would after they had spent the first hour or so settling in.
Patterns started to emerge over time, and it became apparent what the ‘masters’ of relationships did compared to the ‘disasters’. Dr. Gottman could predict with 91% accuracy which couple’s relationships would end in divorce.
Couples who have a successful marriage are emotionally intelligent and embrace each other’s needs. They are constantly working to connect with their partner and understand and fulfill their needs and desires.
A lot of work? Perhaps, and if this is new to you, it can seem so, but it becomes second nature and a part of everyday life with practice.
Being in a happy relationship avoids the stress from conflict and helps buffer the inevitable stresses from life. There is evidence that being in a good relationship increases your immune system and therefore protects against illness. Overall, being in a rewarding marriage is linked with significant health benefits. Who wouldn’t want that?
It’s important to remember that everyone’s basic needs are the same:
- To be loved
- To be heard
- To be respected
- To be shown affection
The Seven Principles are what happy couples use.
Couples with a rewarding and happy relationship have a strong friendship base and, whether they realize it or not, follow the seven principles. Unhappy couples fall short on one or more of the principles. The good news is that although some people innately use the Seven Principles in their relationships, they can learn them for those who don’t. A less than satisfactory relationship can be turned around and thrive.
What factors predict divorce?
A happy relationship is not about never arguing. Inevitably, there will always be conflict between two people who have experienced different values and upbringing, but it is about how that conflict is handled, and the relationship nurtured.
When telling your partner about something that is upsetting you, it’s important how you broach the topic. Starting the conversation harshly, perhaps with blaming or using contempt causes the recipient to become defensive or shut down completely.
There are four communication patterns that get in the way of positive conflict resolution, which the Gottman’s have dubbed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
One or both partners may become overwhelmed or ‘flooded’ during the conversation, accompanied by an increase in heart rate and a fight or flight response. In this state, nothing is going to get solved positively.
Couples who are in a satisfying relationship can deescalate or diffuse an argument with a repair attempt. Still, it takes two to tango, as they say, and the other partner must be receptive and responsive to their attempt for it to work.
When your relationship is engulfed by negativity, past experiences can be minimized or forgotten entirely, and good experiences are rewritten to have a negative connotation.
There is hope!
If you find yourself in this spiral of negativity in your relationship, there is still hope if you are willing to do the work. Follow the Seven Principles, and step by step, your relationship will start to build a robust and solid foundation and begin to flourish.
Here are the Seven Principles
Principle 1: Enhancing your Love Maps
Love maps are simply a way of getting to know your partner better and increasing your knowledge of their world.
It is understanding the importance of knowing one another deeply of getting to know your partners’ desires, dislikes, what is going on in their daily lives, dreams for the future. It’s important to revisit this often as people change.
Principle 2: Nurture your Fondness and Admiration
We all have a choice in how we think about our partner. You can choose to focus on the negative or choose to focus on the positive things about them. You can choose to dwell on the negative, criticizing their shortcomings, or choose to remember the positive things about them fondly and admiringly. This is a beautiful antidote to the Four Horsemen.
Showing appreciation to your partner increases wellbeing. (link to gratitude article)
Principle 3: Turning towards each other instead of away
Choosing to take notice of your partner when they put out a bid for affection by turning towards them helps them feel nurtured and heard. Turning towards in small ways builds a deep connection over time and puts many credits into your emotional bank account, so when you make a mistake or do something hurtful, your account can stand to lose a little. Did you know it takes 20 positive interactions to 1 negative to keep a relationship on a positive note?
My mother taught me from a young age, even before I understood, that foreplay lasts all day.Trevor Noah
Principle 4: Let your partner influence you
Accepting influence is about trying to accommodate each other’s wants, needs, and desires without sacrificing your own. Not accepting influence looks like “Now what does she want?” rather than “I wonder what she wants?”, looking for what you can accommodate in a request and finding how much you can honor.
Principle 5: Solving your solvable problems
Did you know that 69% of your problems as a couple are not solvable! The remaining 31% are solvable if you are willing to work together respectfully and lovingly to find a compromise. The good news is that you don’t have to solve all your problems to have a happy relationship. Using specific tools, you can navigate this journey and resolve conflict peacefully.
Principle 6: Overcoming gridlock
Understanding your partner’s life experiences, values, and stories behind the circumstances that create conflict can help you see their perspective and move forward from a place of gridlock in an issue you may have been arguing about for years.
Principle 7: Creating Shared Meaning
Having built a strong foundation for your relationship, it’s time to explore rituals, roles, goals, and dreams in your partnership. You have joined together from two different lives and are now creating a unique experience for yourself and your family. What are your dreams for your life together?
Your journey has already started
Just reading this has opened you up to the possibility of a deeper friendship and emotional intimacy with your partner and a happier life, you have taken the first step. Building your relationship from the ground up, you are on a journey to make it a strong, fulfilling, and loving experience. Moving through each of the Seven Principles brings a richness and understanding of yourself and your partner as well as the collective ‘we’ of your relationship.
If you would like to delve deeper and give your relationship the nurturing it deserves, come along to a fun and interactive Seven Principles workshop and start your journey towards a happy and healthy life together.