Is there a magic formula for a successful marriage?
Signed: Want To Get It Right
Dear Want To Get It Right,
There is a short answer and a long answer to this question. Let me offer some insights into both! The short answer is no, of course not! No two people are alike, so there is no special, one-size-fits-all, magic formula that can be applied to every single relationship in order to guarantee that it will be happy, healthy and long-lasting. Relationships take work – they require nurturing and effort, even when things are going well – and there will be ups and downs for both partners, usually in different ways. Relationships require a level of commitment and dedication, especially during the more challenging times. And there are sometimes good reasons (like abuse) that suggest a relationship should end.
But, with all the knowledge we have gained over the years of studying the aspects of “forever” between couples, we have managed to recognize some patterns (some might call these formulas) that must exist within a partnership if the connection has any chance of being permanent and loving and stable. One of these patterns can be seen when we look at how disagreements are managed. Disagreements or arguments between partners are not a bad thing, on their own. Conflict in relationships offer both people the chance to get to know one another (and themselves) a little bit better, and provides the opportunity for deeper connection, and for growth and learning as a team. But it is how each partner behaves/treats one another during these moments of disharmony that steers a relationship towards longer-term success or failure.
Research shows us (according to Dr. John Gottman/the Gottman Institute) that couples in relationships that are headed for divorce experience just slightly more negative emotions than positive feelings, during the conflicts they have together. (The ratio is 1.25 negative to positive – it doesn’t take much of an imbalance to point towards a disconnect between partners that can evolve quickly into a jarring problem). These negative feelings are reflected when one or both partners feel defensive or act hostilely towards the other; when they get upset; or when they feel disappointed during and after an argument. But, in relationships that are successful and long-lasting, this ratio is reversed – couples share 5 times more positive feelings than negative ones during arguments. Those who have that “forever” quality tend to use humour, show affection and interact/engage respectfully towards one another when they are embroiled in disagreements together.
A rule of thumb that I often share with my clients regarding success and longevity in relationships is the need for couples to remember to always be friends with one another, in their relationship. Think about how we treat a good friend. Typically, we tend to be honest and respectful, kind and forgiving, encouraging and supporting. We put their needs equal to our own – we show compassion and consideration – and we try to create a win/win feeling for everyone involved. We are curious and want to understand our friends – we don’t jump to negative conclusions and make harsh assumptions about their intentions or behaviours – we clarify misunderstandings and seek to explain our own feelings. We communicate well, and share openly – we trust and allow ourselves to be vulnerable – we don’t stay guarded and distant.
If we can apply the rule of friendship to our intimate relationships, no matter how long we have been with our partner, we develop a foundation upon which these positive feelings can grow, even in conflict moments. The level of connection during happier, easier moments is strong and constant. And it builds a buffer for the negative moments, so they don’t end up being felt as negatively. Regular positivity and closeness (friendship) in a relationship creates habits that surface even during disagreements – which protects a couple from falling into the patterns of negativity with each other when they fight. So maybe that idea of friendship, even during conflict moments, could be considered a formula to follow.
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