Written by: Robert R. Cassman, LPCC
Last week I discussed what goes wrong in dysfunctional relationships. More important than that, however, is what goes right in functional relationships. Through many decades of research, we now know what makes a good relationship good.
- Healthy couples have similar conflict styles. There are three styles of conflict: Avoiders, Validators, and Volatiles. It is important to note that these styles, taken on their own, do NOT predict divorce. It is only when they are paired with different styles that they predict divorce. In other words, if two avoiders are together, they are more likely to be happy than an avoider and a volatile. Everyone has conflict and therefore conflict styles. It is a matter of truly matching with someone similar that leads to a successful relationship.
- Dialogue beats gridlock every time. This is common sense, but not necessarily common. Those couples who utilize dialogue instead of getting entangled in gridlock are healthier than those who don’t. Part of healthy dialogue is not what is talked about but how it is talked about. Couples of use a soft startup for conversation are healthier than those couples who use a harsh startup. Also, accepting the influence of the other partner is fairly significant. In particular, men who are willing to listen to their wives tend to have longer-lasting and happier marriages. Finally, healthy couples are better at de-escalating the negativity instead of escalating. Marriage is not about one partner winning and the other losing. Accepting and listening to a partner IS winning. When a spouse has a complaint, if he or she is truly listened to, then de-escalation has already begun.
- Preemptive repairs work! Healthy couples are masters at truly repairing the relationship DURING the conflict. Instead of adding fuel to the fire, these “masters” help to put the fire out. This takes humility. Preemptively repairing is even better, however. When we preemptively repair, we acknowledge the hard work the other partner has done on an issue. If I come home to find that my wife is stress and has been working on the taxes all day, I can acknowledge the hard work she has done that has led to the stress. If I do this BEFORE any discussion, then it is preemptively repairing. I am showing that I am aware of her and what has gone on in her world.
We now know what goes right in healthy relationships. We no longer have to wonder, rely on old wives’ tales etc. We can take it from the “masters of relationships” and employ the above three tools on a regular basis