A common struggle for many couples is the art of communication. How can it be improved? Why are the same fights happening over and over again? How can a couple have a happy relationship with healthy communication? According to the experts John and Julie Gottman, the secret is to doing small things often. They have conducted 40 years of research and studied all sorts of couples, and have determined the following key principles to what makes long-term relationships successful.
Successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts. Love is an action more than a feeling; it requires intention and attention. Couples need to make dedicated, non-negotiable time for each other a priority, and never stop being curious about one another. Communication is an everyday occurrence and takes place at home, work, among family and friends and most importantly – our partner. The stresses of our everyday can impact our way of communicating and thus negatively affect our relationships.
First and foremost, keep all communication positive. According to the Gottman studies, those couples identified as happy had a ratio of 20:1 positive to negative expressions when conversing. One positive small act is to “turn towards” your partner instead of away or against. Turning towards means to respond to your partner’s bids for attention or connection; don’t ignore or respond with anger. Each time we turn towards our partner, we are practicing how we are expressing our love, and receiving our partner’s love.
While we are turning towards our partner, we can then show fondness, affection and admiration. This can be done either verbally or nonverbally; warmth, humor, affection, complimenting each other, and/or emphasizing the good things. Giving a hug and kiss when greeting each other, saying “I love you”. These small positive acts done often are key to a happy and healthy relationship.
Taking 20 minutes a day to having stress-reducing conversation can encourage positivity. It can help each other minimize negative emotions, provide attention and opportunity for connection. You can call this time ‘checking in’ with each other, or having family meeting time. When we identify areas of stress or conflict, we can learn how to love our partner better.
Behind every negative emotion there is a longing, and in that longing, there is a positive need. Basic to all effective problem-solving is communicating fundamental acceptance instead of rejection of our partner’s personality. If there is constant conflict over fundamental personality differences this is identified as a perpetual problem. If an argument over house cleaning and the kids continues to repeat itself, this is called a solvable problem and only consists of 31% of the time. Since 69% of conflict in relationships is perpetual and unsolvable, the happy successful couples simultaneously communicate acceptance of their partner and the desire to improve this problem, often with amusement, respect, and affection.
Part of companionship is friendship, and building upon our established friendship helps to sustain long-term relationships. We as individuals change all throughout our lives; interests, likes, dislikes, etc. One way to strengthen our friendship is to stay curious about our partners. Asking open-ended questions in conversation such as:
- How would you like our life to change in the next 5 years?
- If you had all the money in the world, what would your dream house look like?
- Where do you see our relationship in 5/10/15 years?
Answers to open-ended questions are like stories; layers of meaning to help understand the heart of who our partner is.
A great way to keep the friendship and storytelling strong is by scheduling date nights. As relationships evolve over time and couples have children, careers, to-do lists; there needs to be scheduled time weekly or monthly to “date” each other. If this time to reconnect is not made a priority it can be a recipe for discontentment and growing apart. This time doesn’t always have to be scheduled on a Friday or Saturday night, although the excitement and anticipation of something to look forward to after a busy work week is great. Date time can be scheduled for breakfast or lunch time as well. The point is to make the relationship and each other a priority. Where there is a will there is a way!
Tips to having positive communication and happy long-term relationships include:
- Turning towards our partners instead of against
- Engaging in a 20-minute conversation each day to destress and feel connected
- Stay curious about each other and build upon the friendship by telling and making stories together
- Make dates a priority
- Small words, small acts, small gestures