Making a relationship work
Falling in love can feel euphoric and exhilarating, but once this fades, maintaining a relationship long term can be challenging, as current divorce rates (42% of marriages in England and Wales ends in divorce) - would testify. The pressures of modern life can make it difficult to maintain a loving relationship, and yet we seem hard-wired to strive to find our soul-mate. Nothing beats that sense of fulfilment, support and togetherness when a relationship flourishes, however the end of a relationship can be devastating.
But there is some science behind understanding what makes a relationship work. Longitudinal studies of couples, by US psychologist John Gottman, suggest there are some critical factors which impact on the quality of a relationship. These factors are; level of emotional intimacy; level of criticism and negativity and approach to conflict resolution. He identified four elements which can prove destructive:
- Criticism – negative statements about your partner
- Contempt – hostility, sneering, generally displaying contempt
- Defensiveness – blaming your partner
- Stonewalling – shutting down and refusing to engage
Although these elements can be present in all relationships from time to time; it is the consistent presence of one or more of them, which can lead to the weakening or erosion of emotional bonds.
For most of us, our romantic relationship bears little resemblance to the picture perfect lifestyle of celebrity couples showcased in OK magazine. Inevitably problems do creep in and common issues are:
- Loss of intimacy
- Lack of communication
- Build up of resentments
- Lack of trust
- Failure to compromise
It is the ability to manage conflict and arguments which becomes the deal breaker. According to studies, many of the issues couples argue about never get resolved. But what appears to make a difference, is the ability to find a way forward, move away from argument gridlock and look for ways of repairing the emotional hurt an argument can cause.
More research by Rusbult et al, suggests that to maintain a satisfactory relationship, three types of behaviours need to be present:
Accommodative behaviour: This means responding in a constructive way, when your partner does something to annoy you.
Willingness to sacrifice: This basically means learning to compromise
Derogation of alternatives: This means down playing or not becoming tempted by attractive alternatives.
Above all, for a relationship to flourish long-term, both parties need to feel they are emotionally connected and their needs are being met.
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