Updated: Aug 7
I’m a people watcher. I don’t like to watch grumpy people, or beautiful people. I’m not watching for the best hair style, outfit, or even shoes (but I do love shoes!). I’m on the lookout for a very rare interaction. If I look long enough on any given day I’m bound to find at least one example of this almost extinct species I’m tracking. What is it I’m looking for? It’s happy couples.
You know them when you see them. Lots of giggling eye contact, a significant amount of shoulder bumps and sideways smiles. It’s really delightful to watch when they don’t know you’re looking. It gives me goosebumps to take it all in.
What’s the secret?
Drs. John and Julie Gottman, the foremost researches on happy marriages, say the secret to relationships that last over a lifetime is friendship. Yep, that’s right. It’s the friendship, emotional intimacy, and expressions of fondness and admiration, that almost guarantee your relationship will remain loving and true. It’s in being trustworthy and committed to meeting each other’s needs and understanding each other well. When we are good people to each other, we take responsibility for how our actions affect each other. We repair when we need to and make our wrongs right. It seems to boil down to treating our family as good as we treat our friends. Like I said, simple but not easy.
What’s the challenge?
Living with someone year after year we really get to know them up close. Often we don’t like what we see so we set about the change them because, of course, we’re perfect! The Gottmans tell us that whatever negative traits we assign to our partner we tend to do ourselves. It’s called assumed similarity. So begin with yourself and see how things will change.
Express your feelings gently and regularly, helping your partner to know and understand you better. Replace criticism and blaming with honesty and vulnerability. Make it easier to listen when you speak by expressing a specific need in a clear ask without anger or other intense emotion.
Be a good listener. Listen to understand and to Identify needs that you can meet for each other. See any requests for changes as opportunities to be a good friend and build a partnership.
Take responsibility for where you need to grow and do better. Defensiveness creates emotional distance and makes excuses for bad behavior. Find even the smallest amount of truth in changes you partner is asking for, and lean in to accept help when you don’t see where you stray.
Not every interaction will be a win for everyone. When you can, yield to win and be willing to compromise. But if you know you can never consistently give what your partner is asking for, say so. If you just can’t seem to get it all together consistently to be on time, admit how hard it is for you, make every effort to try, receive reminders from your partner as an offer of help and care, and repair when you fail to get it right. When differences are accepted and even seen with lighthearted humor, friendship grows and loving affection is shared.
Like I said, simple but not easy. That’s why happy marriages are indeed an endangered species. Take steps today to be that rare couple that stays happy over time. I’ll be looking for you out there!
See my other blogs on relationships https://www.believehopeinspire.com/blog/tag/Relationships
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Dianne Presley, LCSW, BC-TMH
Believe, Hope, Inspire Wellness Services LLC
Anxiety, Depression, Loss and Relationship Therapy
Gottman Level 1 and Level 2 Trained Therapist
Gottman Trained in Traumas and Affairs and in Couples in Addiction
Gottman Educator in 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work and Bringing Baby Home
Certified Brain Based Success Coach