A Relationship is like a Fragile Ecosystem, Please Handle With Care.
October vol 1: issue 10
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 necessarily super negative or critical. In fact they 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 the destructive power of a negative conversation or statement. It takes 5 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 their 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 5 good weeks. What this means is be more careful with each other or expect to do a lot of making up, just to recover. According to Pavlov, if you want to extinguish a certain good behavior 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, 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 30 years since the eruption the surrounding environment is still extremely fragile. So much so that they were warning people that if they left the path, it 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.
Darren Wilk, MA, RCC and Co-owner of Bestmarriages.com