Tag Archives: Happy Couples

How to Keep Your Relationship off the Rocks.

When I was growing up, I occasionally heard the phrase “their marriage is on the rocks”. At that time in my life, my family would spend part of the summer holidays at Ohope Beach, or sometimes up the coast from Gisborne. My dad & I would spend time fishing off some rocky outcrop, with one eye on the line and the other on the sea surging in and out at our feet. Being a visually imaginative kid, the phrase “… on the rocks” always conjured up a painful image of a couple clinging on desperately while the surf battered them mercilessly and their boat called “Marriage” broke-up around them. You probably don’t have to have spent time in boats to know that keeping clear of the rocks is a bit of an imperative.

“On the rocks” isn’t a phrase that I hear much anymore, but that’s not because people aren’t breaking up. A recent article in the New Zealand Herald’s Weekend magazine cited the New Zealand divorce rate as being approximately 33% and research I have read suggests common law relationships probably have a higher separation rate than marriages. The article also stated that several British studies had found that more than 33% of people who had divorced regretted their decision within five years. Most divorce or separation is concentrated in the first ten years of the marriage or a committed relationship and is often avoidable. A majority of divorced people cite the reason for divorce as being that they simply drifted apart.

So how do you avoid drifting onto the rocks? Dr John Gottman of the Gottman Institute has conducted research on marriage for over 40 years, and he reckons that following the seven principles listed below will go a long way towards making sure you steer a course for a happy relationship.

  1. Seek help early. The average couple waits far too long to seek help – don’t be the average couple.
  2. Edit yourself. The happiest couples bite their tongues when discussing touchy topics. They don’t spit out every critical thought they have.
  3. Soften your “start up.” Arguments are often created because of the way a discussion is started. Ambushing your partner with criticism and blame is a surefire way of creating escalating conflict. Bringing up problems gently and without blame works much better.
  4. Accept influence. In a study of heterosexual relationships, the man’s ability to be influenced by the woman was seen as crucial to establishing a successful relationship. As a generality, women are well practised at accepting influence from men, so a true partnership only occurs when men can do the same thing.
  5. Have high standards. Refusing to accept hurtful behaviour from one another right from the beginning of the relationship equals a happier relationship later on.
  6. Learn to back-up from an argument and to repair the disconnect. Happy couples have learnt how to skillfully back out of a potentially escalating argument and how to reconnect after they have trodden on their partner’s toes. They are good at initiating and accepting repair attempts and at being patient and considerate while negotiating tricky waters.
  7. Focus on the positives. A good relationship must have a rich climate of positivity. Happy couples focus on their partner’s positive attributes and on what’s going well rather than concentrating on the negatives.

When things are going well in your relationships, either at home or out in the world, what are you doing to create and maintain the positive connections? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you.

Maybe Your Apologies Fall On Deaf Ears

In my last post I wrote about how to give an effective apology, and many of you took the opportunity to download the free report. However, it’s always possible that although you practiced and then implemented the three steps outlined in the report, your apology seemed to fall on deaf ears. Your partner hardly noticed your attempt to make amends and just went right on sulking, fuming, nit-picking, criticising, yelling or whatever they where doing in the first place. Or maybe the shoe was on the other foot; your partner made a pretty good attempt at apologising to you, but you really didn’t feel like cutting them any slack at all!

Ironically couples in troubled relationships make more repair attempts (attempting to repair the damaged connection between them) than couples who are happy together, but their attempts repeatedly fail. They are met with defensiveness, sarcasm, blame etc or their attempts to reconnect just don’t get noticed because of the backlog of negativity between them.

If this is you, don’t despair, you don’t have to somehow magically become happy together in order to be heard. Here are a couple of things that you can do that will make a difference. Softening up your tone when you are making the attempt will help, or listen to the words rather than the tone if you are on the receiving end. Secondly, make your attempts obvious, maybe even a little formal, in order to cut through the negativity and make it obvious that you are wanting to get back on track. This is were the three step apology comes into its own.

To finish off, here is a short list of less structured repair statements to use when you first notice things getting off track; “Can I take that back?”, “Ouch, that hurt”, “Did I say something wrong?”, “Lets start over again”, “lets take a little break”, “I need to calm down, give me a few moments”, “I’m feeling defensive, could you rephrase that”, “sorry, that came out wrong”, or in the right context a goofy smile, a warm touch or even a good humored salute can work wonders.

Cheers & catch you again soon, Ben.