In a long-term committed relationship, the "honeymoon phase" is not meant to last forever. Eventually, we realize that navigating life with another person requires special skills. Unfortunately, many couples start to drift apart around seven years into their marriage because our culture fails to teach us how to sustain and strengthen our emotional bonds. This is where the Gottman Institute comes in. Drawing from four decades of authentic scientific research, the following seven ideas can help ensure that your love lasts a lifetime (Gottman, 2021):
- Seek help early: The average couple waits six years before seeking help for relationship issues. Considering that half of all marriages end within the first seven years, it's clear that couples often live with dissatisfaction for far too long. If you notice early signs of problems in your marriage, don't hesitate to seek assistance.
- Edit yourself: Successful couples are kind to each other. They avoid expressing every critical thought when discussing sensitive topics and find ways to communicate their needs and concerns respectfully, without criticizing or blaming their partner.
- Soften the "start-up": Disagreements often escalate when one partner initiates conflict with a critical or contemptuous remark. Addressing problems gently and without blame leads to better outcomes, allowing couples to approach conflicts calmly.
- Accept influence from your partner: In examining heterosexual marriages, it has been found that the success of a relationship is dependent on a man's ability to accept influence from his wife. For example, a woman might say to her husband, "Do you have to work on Thursday evening? My mother is visiting this weekend, and I need your help with the preparations." If he responds, "My plans are set, and I won't change them," it's likely that their marriage is on shaky ground. The husband's ability to be influenced by his wife (and not the other way around) is crucial, as studies indicate that women are already skilled at being influenced by men. A true partnership can only be achieved when the husband can do the same.
- Set high standards: Happy couples have high expectations of each other. The most successful couples refuse to accept hurtful behavior from their partner, even in the early stages of the relationship. Having low tolerance for negative behavior early on leads to greater happiness later.
- Learn to repair and exit a fight: Happy couples have learned how to repair and de-escalate conflicts before they spiral out of control. Examples of repair attempts include using humor, making a caring remark ("I understand that this is difficult for you"), expressing a shared commitment to resolving the issue together, making a concession (in marriage, like in the martial art of Aikido, yielding often leads to winning), and offering gestures of appreciation for your partner and their feelings along the way. If a fight becomes too heated, take a 20-minute break and agree to revisit the topic when both of you have calmed down.
- Focus on the positive aspects: In a happy marriage, couples make at least five times more positive statements to each other and about their relationship than negative ones when discussing problems. A happy couple, for example, would say, "We laugh a lot," rather than "We never have fun." In a healthy marriage, a positive climate must prevail. Regularly make deposits into your emotional bank accounts.
By incorporating these seven ideas derived from real scientific research into your relationship, you can nurture and sustain a love that will last a lifetime. Seek help early, communicate with kindness, manage conflicts effectively, accept influence, set high standards, repair and exit fights, and focus on the positive aspects of your relationship. Embrace these principles and watch your love grow stronger with each passing day (Gottman, 2021).
Source: Gottman, J., (2021). The Top 7 Ways To Improve Your Marriage. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-top-7-ways-to-improve-your-marriage/