With Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s easy to succumb to the fantasy that love is all about romance, roses and finding that special someone who always sees eye-to-eye with you.
Good luck with that. The reality is that most of us end up with another flawed human being as a partner, which means that even happy couples disagree sometimes. What distinguishes them from unhappy couples is the way they argue.
John Gottman, author and researcher who heads The Gottman Institute has been studying what makes marriages succeed or fail for over 35 years. His books include “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” and “The Relationship Cure.”
Gottman identified certain behaviors during disagreements that he calls the “Four Horsemen.” Couples that resort to these tactics during arguments damage the trust and communication in their relationship and often break up within about five years, says Gottman.
The Four Things to Avoid
The first two of the four horsemen are criticism and contempt. Criticizing a partner, especially with blanket “you always” and “you never” accusations leaves them feeling attacked. And contempt, which Gottman calls the biggest relationship killer, undermines the respect that good relationships are built on.
The final two of the four horsemen are defensiveness and stonewalling. Defensiveness can get in the way of taking responsibility for your role in a problem, while stonewalling, or shutting down, actually escalates the frustration of your partner, rather than dispelling it.
Do This to Succeed
Successful couples avoid these behaviors and learn how to listen to each other, share the blame and work together to find a resolution. Still, even some couples who make these mistakes can build successful relationships if they are willing to go back later and repair the damage with an apology or discussion about the conflict.
How couples handle conflict is important, says Gottman, but it’s not everything. A relationship without conflict, but without delight, is also likely to fail. It’s important to find time to enjoy your partner, take an interest in his/her hopes and dreams, and cherish the good in your relationship.
Love and Happiness
When relationships don’t work, they can create stress and depression that spills over into the rest of your life. The effort you put into cultivating a good relationship is likely to pay by providing many years of happiness. In fact, it’s one of the central ingredients of a good life.
So this Valentine’s Day, along with the roses and chocolate, make a promise to your sweetheart that the next argument will be one that’s conducted with fairness and respect.