The Building Blocks of a Happy Relationship – www.smileypete.com
by Missy Ammerman
December 20, 2021
What does it take to make a happy relationship? Spoiler alert: it’s more than just good communication and conflict management.
As a relationship coach, I see a lot of unhappy couples coming to me for help. Let me be clear, sometimes people are truly mismatched and lack compatibility. It can be painful and difficult to let go of a relationship even when, in your heart, you know it’s just not right. Our brains can allow us to live in denial for a long time in an effort to protect ourselves from pain and loss.
Other times, a couple may be compatible, but the pressures of careers, parenting and life’s stressors can put tension on our relationships, and because we’re often not taught how to communicate and mange conflict, our relationships suffer as a result. But it takes more than effective communication and conflict management to build and sustain a satisfying relationship.
Missy Ammerman. Photo furnished
At the foundation of a healthy marriage is a solid friendship. According to marriage researcher, John Gottman, Ph.D., “The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. For men, the determining factor is by 70 percent the quality of the couple’s friendship.” So men and women do come from the same planet after all.
Gottman discusses the following three ingredients that build a foundation for a solid friendship:
Create a Culture of Mutual Respect and Admiration
What does it take to have deep friendship with your partner? First of all, having a mutual respect and enjoyment for each other is vital. In order to have respect for each other, it’s important to be focused on the things you like and admire about them. Think of turning on a scanner and scanning for the qualities that you appreciate about them. We tend to see what we look for. If we are looking for things that irritate us, we are guaranteed to find them. Think of when you get a new car: All of a sudden you start noticing that make/model wherever you go. The same factor applies to our relationships. Look for the things that you like about your partner and things you feel they are doing well. When our relationships are stressed, we can enter a state of “negative sentiment override.” Negative sentiment override simply means we skew everything our partner does in a negative light, even when their action is neutral. Look for the good in your partner, and when you notice something you appreciate about them, let them know! Noticing something your partner does that you appreciate and not telling them is akin to buying them a gift, stuffing it in the trunk of your car and never giving it to them. Tell them what you appreciate about them.
Know Your Partner’s Inner World
Happy couples tend to know each other intimately. They know their partner’s hopes and dreams; they know their fears, likes, and dislikes; they understand the nature of their current stressors and frustrations. They are interested in each other. They really want to know each other deeply. In order to know your partner on a deeper level, be interested in them. Ask questions. Be curious. Try making 50 percent of your conversation questions. Having a strong friendship offers protection against feeling adversarial toward your partner – it provides protection against negative sentiment override. When your positive thoughts about your relationship are pervasive, it tends to supplant negative feelings. Friendship is at the basis of repairing conflict because positive feelings allow you to be more optimistic about your relationship and to offer each other the benefit of the doubt.
Make Bids For Emotional Connection
The way to build intimacy is by making “bids” for emotional connection. When your partner makes a bid for your attention, it’s important to “turn toward” that bid. For example, if they ask you how that meeting went, engage with them. Put your phone down and let them know that you appreciate that they asked. When a partner “turns away” from a bid for emotional connection, meaning they don’t engage with you or they brush you off, the probability of rebidding is almost zero. This lack of connection is painful. When we turn toward our partner’s bid for support, humor or attention, we are in effect telling them “you matter to me.” It’s the small, everyday gestures that fill up our emotional bank accounts. It’s not the fancy trip to Hawaii that will make your partner feel heard, seen and loved – it’s the daily ritual of the seemingly insignificant moments of connection that build mutual trust. When your partner remembers your work meeting and sends you a quick text to wish you luck, when they quietly cover you up after you’ve fallen asleep on the couch, when they remember to get your favorite ice cream without being asked, those are the gestures that make you feel loved. The little moments are the big moments, and these micro-moments are critical in building both trust and romance in your relationship.
Gottman’s research confirms the important role that bids play in a relationship. In his six-year follow-up of newlyweds, couples who stayed married turned toward their partner’s bids an average of 86 percent, while those who divorced averaged 33 percent. These failed bids for connection are the source of many arguments.
The average couple waits six years from the time problems arise until they seek help. It’s far easier to improve your relationship before deep resentment sets in. Seeking relationship coaching is not a sign of weakness, it shows you’re invested in making your relationship healthier and more meaningful to both of you. Just as you go to the gym to strengthen your body, learning skills to strengthen your relationship can be invaluable.
Offering both therapy and coaching services, Missy Ammerman has 20 years of experience helping clients struggling with anxiety, depression and relationship problems. Her private practice is located in Dudley Square.
by Missy Ammerman
December 20, 2021
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