Tips For A Successful Relationship
In 5 Tips for Building and Keeping Healthy Relationships we discussed some of the things couples do in successful relationships. Relationship researchers like John Gottman spend time working with couples to learn from them. Gottman is well known for his work in the ‘love lab’ where he and other researchers conduct studies to learn more about the very difficult subject of successful relationships.
What they have learned might surprise you in its simplicity, though we all know that turning simple behaviors into regular habits can be difficult – particularly when human emotions and interpersonal relations are involved. The following highlights more wisdom from Gottman and others in the field of relationship education.
1. Kiss and hug every day! This bit of wisdom seems simple enough to do. It is based on research indicating that when we hug for 10 seconds or longer the body releases a hormone called oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone’ that is produced in nursing mothers. This chemical reaction in the brain promotes feelings of closeness, attachment and bonding. The result is increased trust and reduced fear. This chemical is responsible for the good feelings after orgasm and helps women endure childbirth.
Gottman says that trust is the most critical element in the stuff relationships are made of, and that couples create trust by doing the little things – and kissing and hugging. Gottman and his wife have a six-second kissing rule – all kisses must last at least six seconds. If it is good enough for one of the nation’s top couple researchers, it seems like good advice!
2. Speak your partner’s love language. Gary Chapman is another relationship expert. Chapman is the author of the popular book The Five Love Languages. In this book, the author suggests that people have different ways of getting their emotional needs met. His premise is that in order to create intimate emotional connections, we must learn to speak the love language of our beloved.
For example, some people feel emotionally connected and cared for when their partner/spouse gives them gifts. Others are more turned on by acts of service. The majority report their primary love languages are physical touch or words of affirmation. Many also enjoy quality time.
The mistake we often make is assuming that our partner’s emotional needs are met in the same way ours are. In Chapman’s language, that translates to we expect them to speak our language instead of relating to them in their native tongue.
Take time to figure out (preferably together as a couple) which love language is your primary and talk with your partner/spouse about things s/he does that really do it for you. When you figure out what your partner/spouse likes – do that! It will add ‘currency’ to your emotional bank account, and increase the positive connections required for a successful relationship.
3. Take responsibility for your part in things; make amends quickly when you blow it. Another of Gottman’s suggestions for successful relationships is called ‘repair techniques’. In layperson’s terms that means if you blow it, fix it – quickly. Gottman found that couples who know how to stop an argument, break unhealthy patterns or prevent negative interactions from escalating have better relationship outcomes. They do this by using ‘repair techniques’ that can be as simple as saying something like ‘I don’t want to argue about this – let’s agree to disagree.’
This is not to say that couples should avoid conflict (see the next point below), but rather that we should learn how to prevent miscommunication, arguments and conflict from escalating. Nobody wins when things escalate.
Sometimes we simply make a mistake, forget to do something we agreed to do or otherwise screw up. We will never be perfect and will surely make mistakes. What matters is that we take responsibility for our part in things and correct it as soon as possible. Those couples who learn to do this sooner, rather than later, are the most successful.
4. Address conflict directly. Some couples mistakenly believe that by not arguing or addressing disagreements they are relating in a healthy way. This is not true and not healthy. Conflict is inevitable, as the experts say. What matter most is how we handle conflict.
Disagreements and misunderstandings that are not addressed and resolved tend to grow and morph into something bigger and more difficult to remedy. Learn to address conflict and problems directly. The steps involved in those processes are too detailed for this article, but you can learn more in Successful Relationships: Effectively Solving Problems Together and Successful Relationships: Effective Conflict Resolution Skills.
5. Solve problems only after both of you feel fully understood about the issue. The first step is talking about the issues from both perspectives using active listening. It is not until both of you feel heard and understood that you move into problem solving or conflict resolution.
Relationship educators agree that effective communication is the key to better relationships. Many couples want to jump in and solve problems before they have fully discussed the issues from all angles. This results in unresolved problems and conflicts as there are often (60% of the time) underlying issues that need to be addressed, rather than the surface problem. It is only by talking and listening to each other that you will get to the core issues.
Chapman, Gary D. The Five Love Languages. Chicago, IL: Northfield Pub., 2009. Print.
Gottman, John, PhD. "John Gottman on Trust and Betrayal." Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Web. 04 Nov. 2013.
"Oxytocin Hormone Promotes Bonding." News Medical. Web. 04 Nov. 2013.