A relationship is like a fragile Ecosystem, please handle with care.
October issue 10: vol:1
I recently thought of another way to help couples understand the harmful effects of Criticism, blame and personal attacks when in conflict discussion. The relationship needs to be seen like a fragile ecosystem. It is a well documented fact in Dr. John Gottman’s research that couples that end up getting divorced are not necessary super negative or critical. They in fact are pretty good to each other half the time and half the time they say hurtful things or attack their partner. The problem is they do not realize that the power of a negative conversation or statement. It takes 20 times more good stuff to make up for something negative, just to get back to neutral territory. Research is clear that couples with good marriages spend 95% of their time being nice and friendly to their partner in day to day routine and 83% in a conflict discussion. This might seem extreme, but even at this rate they do not feel like they are over the moon in love, they just feel good about the relationship and more or less like each other.
Couples have to realize it does not take much to destroy a week or a year of good times. One really bad week can erase 20 good weeks. What this means is be more careful with each other or expect to do a lot of making up, for a long time, just to recover. According to Pavlov, if you want to extinguish a certain good behaviour just use a little shock therapy with the rat in the maze and it will very quickly learn to not go down that path again. In order to encourage it to try that path again it will take a lot of cheese, if Gottman’s theory holds true for rats as well.
The Bottom line is relationships are always in a cost/benefit analysis and contrary to popular opinion are like a fragile ecosystem. I remember Hiking in the Mount Saint Helens area recently and even though it has been over 20 years since the eruption the surrounding environment is still extremely fragile. So much so that they where warning people that to leave the path could result in a $1000 dollar fine. There were rangers everywhere keeping an eye out for transgressors. I stayed on the path, but at times the mischievous person in me wanted to challenge the rule and touch the fringe, but out of respect and love for the beauty we were surrounded with I followed the rules. Relationships are no different. No matter how long you have been together remember to treat the environment with care and stay on the path. Please handle your relationship with care and be gentle with one another. You will then be able to focus more on having fun and enjoying the beauty of your relationship.
How To Ruin Valentine ’s Day…And Potentially A Perfectly Good Relationship!
February Vol. 1 Issue 1, 2011
Being a Certified Gottman Marriage Counsellor for years and being married for 22 years, you would think love, romance and passion should be second nature. But it isn’t! Every year during Valentine ’s Day I am reminded to reflect on how to keep the romance alive in a long term relationship. One way to ruin this awesome reminder is to excuse it away, by saying, it’s all about the commercialism… “I will show love when I want to, not when some saint says I should.” This could be a grave mistake. Trust me, I have made it too many times!!!
Create rituals of connection.
It is true that commercialism and insane mark-ups are everywhere whenever a special holiday comes around and it can really ruin the intention of the holiday. (I am so cheap that I make sure I buy flowers one week in advance and never go to a restaurant on the actual day.) So get mad and rebelliously stomp your feet, about this insidious practice and then step back and think for a moment.
Why is this tradition important for relationships? It reminds us every year to make sure we are remembering to celebrate the love we have with that someone special. Research is clear that couples who develop rituals of connection which are behaviours we can count on, and depend on are healthier than couples that pretend that love, romance and passion just happen by some freak accident. One of the mistakes that marriages that end in divorce, or relationships that are stable but miserable often do is rely on a myth that if we are not fighting and avoid all conflict, that fun, friendship, and passion will just magically appear in their relationship. This is simply not true. Those marriages that have been proven to last, recognize that the passion stays alive because they create Rituals of connection, to keep it alive.
Rituals of connection are any behaviour that a couple chooses to make purposeful in order to stay connected and have fun doing it. Happy couples start and end their days in special ways. They know what makes a great weekend for both of them and they build in activities that they both enjoy. They commit to a date or two a month, they know what each of them wants, or doesn’t want, when they are for example sick, and they definitely have talked about how to initiate and refuse sex. There are literally hundreds of informal and formal rituals that begin to define a couple. Valentine’s day is just a yearly wake up call reminding us to say “I love you” and celebrate your commitment.
Make it your own! Talk about what Valentines means to you and ask your partner what it means to them. Focus on what makes your partner feel more connected to you. Valentines is not just a day, it is a symbolic reminder to build daily rituals you can count on.
One more thing… make sure you tell your partner how remarkable they are, and that you can’t wait to get your hands on them (in a good way). Most of the time these loving thoughts stay in our head and rarely trickle past our lips. Most couples that come to therapy say they feel taken for granted and unappreciated. At Bestmarriages.com counselling when we ask couples to say positive things about their partner, they rarely have a problem coming up with three or four things to say from the previous week or two. When asked if they had verbalized this to their partner the answer is no, but they did think about it. What good is that??? If you don’t say it, your partner cannot read your mind. Make it a practice to catch your partner doing something right and let them know. The results will speak for themselves.
Darren Wilk, MA, Certified Gottman Couples therapist