Although October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, rather than dwell on the negatives of relationships, perhaps more attention should be focused on the components of successful relationships. Successful relationships have certain elements in common that have been observed and verified in actual research. Some of these elements are obvious and simple, yet we often do not practice them.
John Gottman, Ph.D., renowned researcher, author, speaker and therapist has been studying couples for years and has determined there are certain universal and common practices that successful relationships employ.
Gottman has observed that successful couples are simply … friends. They basically “like” each other. This seems overly obvious, but the truth is when couples get to a point of ongoing irritation and even contempt, they are in trouble. Successful couples have strategies for keeping the friendship alive.
Successful couples are kind and considerate to one another. Successful couples spend time with one another, talk and have a sense of humor. They communicate respect in numerous small ways. They show interest in one another and scan their environment searching for opportunities to say thank you rather than searching for mistakes. They reach out to one another and make bids for attention and, in turn, they respond more to the other person’s bids. Successful couples respond to 96 percent of their partner’s bids for attention, whereas couples headed for divorce only respond 30 percent of the time, and most couples only notice 50 percent of the positive things their partner is doing.
Successful couples have disagreements and still argue, but they are better at recovering from those arguments. They find ways to diffuse an argument, change direction, divert and avoid the spinning wheel or long-term gridlock. In short, they find ways to come back together after an argument.
Successful couples also accept their partners influence. In other words, they share power and allow themselves, their opinions and understandings to be moved and changed by the other person. There is no “my way or the highway” in a successful relationship. Successful relationships become “our way,” worked out over time with respect and genuine openness to the other.
Very importantly, successful couples enhance their “love maps,” that is, they take the time and attention to explore the landscape in their partner’s heart and head. They explore those landscapes caringly. They come to know the other’s worries, hopes and goals in life, their history, and the facts and feelings of their world. Successful couples then use these love maps to enhance communication, understanding and, yes, admiration for the other. Successful couples are not business partners, debating opponents or roommates. Rather, successful couples are love map makers.
Successful couples, share the meaning of their lives. They have a kind of shared spirituality, a shared way at looking and feeling the world on a deep level. These couples share an inner life that is rich in symbols and rituals. They share life’s goals and admire and respect each other’s place in the world, and more importantly their place within the family.
Finally, if these relationship practices are viewed as creating a rich interior life to a relationship, the outer structure, or wall supporting it all, is commitment – commitment to the growth, health, intimacy and longevity of the relationship. For one person in a relationship to secretly believe he or she can “do better” is to allow a worm to burrow into the wall and undermine the structural integrity of the relationship.
As was stated, many of these practices are known to us already and are simple. Some couples are naturally more inclined to employ them. They are the fortunate ones. But, for the rest of us, these practices can be learned and strengthened with use over time provided we are motivated and committed to the relationship.