Marital Tips Every Couple Can Benefit From
A happy marriage has been shown to improve physical health, and unhealthy relationships likely harm health and well-being. Maintaining a healthy relationship is challenging at times, even for the best of couples, but the work is worth the benefits. Happy, healthy couples are significantly more likely to experience a greater and more secure sense of well-being.
Humanity has been searching for the secrets to a perfect marriage long before the dawn of modern concepts like marital therapy. Every marriage is different, but the last century has seen a surge of empirical research into marriage, couples, and relationships. Researchers have discovered common themes among happy marriages and have based modern marriage advice on their investigations. For much of the 20th century, marriage was the sole focus of researchers studying romantic relationships, but today's researchers investigate all types of romantic relationships.
Below are several tips for maintaining a happy and healthy relationship, taken from empirical sources and based on decades of scientific study.
Tip #1: Know The Four Horsemen
The "four horsemen" were developed by John Gottman, a psychologist and relationship expert. They allude to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a metaphor depicting the end of the world in the New Testament. In his research, Gottman discovered four communication styles most likely to predict the end of a relationship. Knowing and avoiding the horsemen is likely to help relationship quality stay high.
Horseman #1: Criticism
Criticizing is different than critiquing or complaining. A complaint is a legitimate concern, and it can be brought to a partner's attention politely and civilly. Criticism is an attack on a person's character. It is usually demeaning and insulting, and the recipient will likely feel belittled or encouraged towards defensiveness.
Gottman felt that criticism is what paves the way for the following horsemen. He recommends that couples begin with a "soft start" to a delicate conversation to ensure reasonable concerns are presented as complaints, not criticisms. Unhealthy conflict can likely be avoided if a person takes a few moments before a conversation to ensure they are in the correct frame of mind.
Horseman #2: Contempt
The second horseman, contempt, is the strongest predictor of divorce. Contempt arises when communication becomes hostile and cruel. Partners adopt a mean-spirited tone, resorting to sarcasm, insults, and mockery instead of kind, empathetic communication. While criticism attacks a person's character, contempt positions the giver on a moral high ground, belittling and undermining their partner.
Contempt comes from unresolved negative thoughts about a partner, which disrupts kind communication. As negative thoughts persist, stress levels rise, further compromising the well-being of both partners.
Gottman recommends building a culture of appreciation to counter contempt. Regular expressions of appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect create a positive perspective in the relationship. Consider Gottman's 5:1 ratio, a mathematically-validated principle that describes how one negative interaction can remove the positivity from 5 positive ones.
Horseman #3: Defensiveness
The third horseman, defensiveness, commonly emerges in response to criticism. Defensiveness is a typical reaction observed in both romantic and non-romantic relationships—almost everyone has experienced it at some point, often when a person feels unjustly accused. In a relationship, if one partner expresses a concern and the other responds defensively, it disrupts the opportunity for healthy communication.
Defensiveness can be countered by taking responsibility for whatever the person was being defensive about. Defensiveness revolves around blame; the person becoming defensive is blaming their partner. By taking responsibility, they admit their role in the conflict, reducing tension.
Horseman #4: Stonewalling
The fourth and final horseman, stonewalling, typically arises in response to contempt. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws completely, shuts down, and refuses to engage in the conversation further. It is an evasive tactic that hampers healthy communication. With time, stonewalling becomes a habitual escape route a partner uses when feeling overwhelmed.
While stonewalling is not typical in a healthy relationship, it is tempting to evade difficult conversations by retreating. Partners can avoid the effects of stonewalling by agreeing to take breaks from difficult conversations when necessary. However, both partners must agree to resume the conversation later.
Tip #2: Positive Affirmations
Small positive actions and words go a long way. Three-fourths of happy couples report that their spouses often made them feel cared for or special, while less than half of unhappy couples reported the same. Small positive affirmations are a significant predictor of a relationship's success. Common positive affirmations include writing a partner a nice note, offering a shoulder rub, or buying flowers.
Compliments are also helpful in a healthy relationship. Noting when a partner does something special or interesting will likely help give them a boost, as will celebrating their accomplishments. Bringing positivity to a relationship is an ongoing project; it needs to be a daily occurrence. The positive gestures don't need to be large, but they should be meaningful to the recipient.
Tip #3: Maintain The Friendship
Friendship is foundational to a happy relationship. Couples who have been friends throughout their relationships have a higher relationship quality than those who haven't. Partners should make time for each other in a relationship, setting aside time each week for shared activities and communication. Creating new memories is a great way to maintain friendships, as is going on adventures. Humor and laughing together also help a couple maintain a friendship.
Engaging in friendship behaviors can help couples maintain their foundation. Common friendship behaviors include going for a walk, playing a game, listening to music, and talking about each other's day. Nothing complicated needs to be included, just simple acts of attention and communication.
Tip #4: Develop Relationship Rituals
Rituals and traditions can help solidify a relationship. They help couples recharge and give time meaning and predictability. Rituals are associated with greater positive emotions and relationship satisfaction, and they can also significantly boost commitment in the relationship. The exact specifics of the ritual don't matter; the most important aspect is the time the couple spends together. Rituals are different from spending quality time together, but considerable overlap exists.
Below are examples of a few common rituals couples share:
- Eat meals together without screens. Turn off TVs and phones and have a conversation daily, if possible.
- Exercise together and make wellness a joint goal.
- Share a kiss at the same time each day, like when one partner is leaving or returning home.
- Have regular conversations about stressors external to the relationship to allow partners to receive support.
Tip #5: Get Help Early
Many couples manage conflict in their relationship by applying their own problem-solving strategies. If those strategies are effective, the relationship quality may improve. If problems do occur in a relationship, evidence suggests that seeking help from a professional counselor as early as possible offers the best chance of saving the relationship.
Couples counseling is an effective method for resolving many concerns related to a relationship. While there is a stigma associated with couples counseling, it is becoming less prevalent each year. Significantly more couples attend therapy than in years past due in no small part to its effectiveness. Modern approaches to couples therapy are based on empirical research and incorporate decades of scientific progress. Current research indicates that 70% of couples experience improvement following therapy.
How Can Online Therapy Help?
Visiting a therapist online gives you the opportunity to access couples counseling and many other therapeutic services from home. If you have problems in your relationship that concern you, big or small, a therapist can help. Don't wait until problems become overwhelming; experts recommend seeing a couples counselor as soon as possible once a problem is identified. You can also see a counselor for individual concerns, regardless of whether they impact your relationship.
Online therapy has experienced a drastic increase in popularity in recent years. Many people prefer the conveniences of online therapy, like avoiding travel or being able to choose a therapist from outside their local area. Therapists who deliver services online have the same training and credentials as traditional therapists and use the same evidence-based techniques. Those who have experienced in-person therapy will find online therapy familiar; the process is nearly identical, apart from the setting. Although therapy is administered online, evidence indicates it is just as effective as traditional therapy.
Decades of research into marriage have provided valuable information regarding what makes a relationship successful. Good communication is essential and can be achieved by avoiding criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Spending quality time together is also necessary, and it can be bolstered by developing couples' rituals. Relationships also benefit from an excess of positivity. Couples who take time to compliment, thank, and appreciate each other tend to be happier than couples who don't. If problems appear in a relationship, a couple should consider seeking help from a couples counselor before the problems become extreme.
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