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What Makes A Relationship Last? A Science Based Answer

​​​​What ​Makes ​A ​Relationship ​Last? A ​Science ​Based ​Answer

Why do some relationships last-and others fail?

It’s a question that many couples have when they come into my office. Are we right for each other? Should we work on our relationship, or should we go our separate ways? And, by the way, how do we make this decision?

How to predict whether a relationship will last or not would be a very valuable skill to have-especially when one realizes that in most marriages, even if they last, both partners may not be happy.

In fact, in his book “
Happily Ever After”, psychologist Ty Tashiro states that out of every ten people that get married, only three will create a happy, sustainable long-term relationship with each other.

​​Only 3 out of every 10 married couples will create a happy, sustainable long-term relationship.

​-Ty Tashiro

So, how does one tell if a relationship will last?

A powerful answer to this question comes from
John Gottman, one of America's most eminent relationship researchers.

​​​John Gottman

In 1986, relationship researcher John Gottman (together with colleague Robert Levenson) set up what he called the “Love Lab”. This was an apartment at the University of Washington where newly-wed couples would come and live for several days.

During these days Gottman and Levenson would physiologically-monitor and video-tape each couple as they lived together. They would also ask each couple questions about their relationship, including:

  • ​how they met
  • what conflict they had with each other, and
  • positive memories of each other

​As each member of the couple answered these questions, Gottman and Levenson would monitor their heart rates, the level of sweat produced and their level of general physiological arousal. After a few days they would send the couples home.

Six years later Gottman and Levenson would follow up with each couple to see if their were together to not-and if so, how happy their marriage was.

The Masters of Relationships

From this data, Gottman and Levenson separated the couples into two groups. These groups were:

  • ​the "Masters of Relationships" (these were the couples who were still happily married and content after 6 years), and
  • the "Disasters of Relationships" (these were the couples who had separated or were together but chronically unhappy).

​So, what where the differences between these two groups?

Accordion to Gottman and Levenson, there were just two traits that separated these groups. These traits were kindness and generosity.

​​Accordion to Gottman and Levenson, there were just two traits that separated these groups. These traits were kindness and generosity.


​​​​Kindness

According to Gottman, disasters of relationships to get very quickly into a "fight-flight" (or adversarial) state of mind during relatively simple conversations.

In other words, disasters of relationships quickly get into attack (or defend) mode during conversations. If their spouse says or does something that they do not like or agree with, disasters of relationships are very quick to point out the faults in their spouses words or actions.

In these situations a disaster of relationship will attack their spouse, often by criticism or expressing contempt. Or if they themselves are being criticized, disasters of relationships easily become defensive. Or equally they become non-responsive and stonewall their partner.

These four traits, namely:

1.

Criticism

2.

Contempt

3.

Defensiveness

​4.

Stonewalling

​are what Gottman calls the "four horsemen of the apocolypse". They are all signs that a relationship is in trouble. Each behaviour over time is likely to lead to distance in a couple-and eventual separation.

Masters Of Relationships

​​​For masters of relationships the relationship is far more important that any single issue-so they be careful not to let small issues escalate into pointless arguments.

Scanning For Positives

Another behaviour that masters of relationships do that disasters of relationships do not do is to scan their relationship environment for positives-such as for things that they can praise their partner for or say thank you for.

Examples of this may be a partner who regularly thanks their partner for bathing the children in the evenings, even if it their job. Telling your partner what he or she is doing right is a powerful antidote to the times where your partner is feeling judged or criticized.

​Kindness

In the same vein as scanning for positives, kindness helps glue couples together. In fact, research has shown that kindness is the most important predictor of relationship satisfaction and stability. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood and loved.

So, how do you show kindness in a relationship?

Fortunately there are many ways!

One simple way to show kindness in a relationship involves what is known as "bids for attention". A bid for attention is usually a simple request for connection. For example, you may be watching television with your partner and he (or she) may say: "Isn't that funny!".

While this may seem an innocuous comment, in reality it is an attempt (albeit a small one) to connect with the partner. A master of relationship will acknowledge this connection, by saying something like "Yes, it sure is!".

​​​​One simple way to show kindness in a relationship involves what is known as "bids for attention". A bid for attention is usually a simple request for connection.

​By contrast, disasters of relationships will often ignore this bid, perhaps by saying nothing. Or they may disagree, perhaps by saying: "No, not really". In either case, the bid for connection has been lost.

Masters of relationships then respond kindly to bids for attention.

Another way of being kind to your partner is to think the best of their intentions. If your partner makes a mistake, rather than thinking about the outcome of their actions, focus on what your partner was trying to do. Maybe their intention was good. They may have been trying to help. And even if the effect is to hinder, masters of relationships will kindly acknowledge the intention, not the outcome.

A third example of showing kindness in a relationship is to share joyous moments with each other. If your partner has done something well, such as achieved a goal in work or done well at a sporting event-share the joy with them (rather than just making a token acknowledgement-such as by saying "That's nice").

Couples who share each others joy are far more likely to stay together than couples who do not. In fact, research has shown that being there for each other when things are good is even more important for a couple than being there for each other when things get tough!

​​​​​​Research has shown that being there for each other when things are good is even more important for a couple than being there for each other when things get tough!

Generosity

What Is Generosity?

In general, generosity in a relationship is choosing to focus more on the needs and wants of your partner than your own needs and wants.

Of course there are times when acts of generosity are counter-productive in a relationship-such as when your partner is completely self-serving, narcissistic or controlling, but in general the more generous each partner is to the other, the more likely the relationship is to succeed long-term.

So, what does generosity look like long-term in a relationship?

Luckily there are many ways to show generosity in a relationship.

These include:

1) Being Forgiving

In a relationship it is easy to "keep score" on who does what, who makes the most effort and so forth. Unfortunately research shows that this "score-keeping" is a strong predictor of relationship failure. Being generous in this context means being forgiving (and forgetting) of your partners perceived mistakes, accepting your partners apologies for mistakes and not letting frustrations build up.

​2) Praising Your Partner

Supporting and uplifting your partner is a key part of any great relationship. Taking time to compliment your partner, saying "thank you" or encouraging your partner in their day to day life all contribute to the glue that helps couples stay together.

​3) Thinking About How To Make Your Partner Happy

There are many day to day things that we can all do to improve your partners day. Some of these may be based in knowing what your partners main "love language" is and acting in a way that responds to it. Small acts of services, physical touch and supportive words can all contribute to making your partner happier. But the key is to think what would make him or her happy (not what would make you happy).

​4) Listening To Your Partner

​If your partner has had a difficult day and wants to talk about it, simply listening to your partner as he or she offloads the day is a generous act. I have written previously about the importance of good listening, but if you want to brush up on your listening skills, click here.

​​​If your partner has had a difficult day and wants to talk about it, simply listening to your partner as he or she offloads the day is a generous act. I have written previously about the importance of good listening, but if you want to brush up on your listening skills, click here.

​How Generous Is Your Relationship?

​​There are many other ways to show generosity in your relationship, but for a quick assessment of how generous your relationship is, assess yourself on the following four questions, using a scale of 1-5 (1=Never, 5=Always):

1) How often do you express affection or love to your partner?

2) How often do you express respect or admiration to your partner?

3) How often do you perform small acts of kindness for your partner (like making him or her coffee in the morning)?

4) How often do you forgive your partner for his or her mistakes or failings?


If you would like a full scoring guide, contact me or go to this article:
Quiz: Do you have a generous relationship?

​If you would like an ​indication now of your score, an average score on this quiz is around 15-16. If you are less than that you may have some work to do!

​In Conclusion...

​​​Science has said that kindness and forgiv​eness are the two key traits that "glue" a relationship together.

​Would you ​like to increase the levels of ​ kindness or generosity in your relationship? Book a relationship counselling session here.

Is My Relationship Over? 6 Clear Signs That It May Be Time To Break Up

​​​Is My Relationship Over? 6 Clear Signs That It May Be Time To Break Up

​How do you know if your relationship is over?

This is a question that doesn’t have an easy answer-yet it is something that many people in relationships struggle with.

As a relationship counsellor one of my main tasks is to help couples learn the relationship tools to help them stay together. However having said this it is important to ​realise that for some couples breaking up may be the best option they have.

For these couples it is still important to break up in a healthy, non-damaging ways-especially when children are involved.

​As a relationship counsellor my main task (as I see it) is to help couples learn the relationship tools to help them stay together. However having said this it is important to release that for some couples breaking up may be the best option they have.

​​Often seeing a relationship counsellor to talk through these issues in a constructive way is a good choice even if you have already decided not to stay together. In the past I have helped many couples do exactly this.

So, what are some common signs that your relationship is over?

While there are many answers to this question, here are ​6 common signs that either your relationship is in serious trouble, or that it might already be over.

​​Sign 1: Emotional Distance

One of the biggest red flags between couples is that they start to withdraw from each other.There are many ways couples can do this. These include

  • ​spending more time with friends or family outside the relationship
  • not sharing details of your life with each other
  • spending more time on ​seperate hobbies and interests
  • ​sharing highlights and lowlights of your day with other people (not your partner)

​This process of withdrawal from each other can be gradual, but the effect on any relationship is significant.

​This process of withdrawal from each other can be gradual, but the effect on any relationship is significant. Couples feel less connected to each other, they spend more time apart from each other and levels happiness and bonding drop.

If this process is not reversed then in most cases a relationship will break up. Or if the couple stay together it becomes a functional relationship, rather than a loving, committed one.

​Sign 2: Increased Aggression or Arguments

​​While the presence of aggression or arguments in not a predictor of separation in most relationships, an increase in aggression or arguments (or a change in the type of aggression or arguments) can be.

As an example, of this, it is common for couples who are on the verge of breaking up to increase both the frequency and intensity of arguments. What may have been a minor irritation a few years prior becomes a major argument. And an argument that may have escalated to a certain point a few years prior now its even more heated.

According to relationship guru
John Gottman, one of the most corrosive features in arguments is the presence of contempt between couples.

​Contempt is when we are truly mean towards our partner or think of ourselves as superior to our partner.


For those not familiar with it, contempt is when we are truly mean towards our partner or think of ourselves as superior to our partner. Common examples of contempt include:

  • treat your partner with disrespect
  • mocking him or her
  • using sarcasm or condescension
  • using hostile humour
  • name-calling
  • mimicking, and
  • body language such as eye-rolling and sneering

​Contempt is such a strong predictor of divorce that once is takes hold it usually takes professional help for it to change.

​​​Sign 3: Fantasies of Escape

​​A third sign that your relationship may be over is when either partner is having more and more consistent fantasies of escape.

Common fantasies of escape include the “grass is greener” type of fantasy where you imagine being with another person that will make you happier than your current partner, or simply being single and escaping from your perceived problems at the time.

While fantasies of escape can be tempting, it is important to realize that “running away” is only one solution to the problem of a poor relationship. Perhaps a more mature solution is to try and fix the relationship first by addressing the major issues in it.

While fantasies of escape can be tempting, it is important to realise that “running away” is only one solution to the problem of a poor relationship. Perhaps a more mature solution is to try and fix the relationship first by addressing the major issues in it."

​While some people think that they have already done this, it is also important to realize that many of us have a tendency to focus on our partners perceived weakness or faults and overlook our contribution to relationship issues. In fact, for some people this “taking responsibility” of relationship issues can be almost impossible.

With couples I see I always try to get each member of the couple to focus on their own contribution to the relationship dysfunction-not ​their partners. In other words, it is important to always try to change ourselves before we change others.

Having said that, if one member of the couple has truly looked at themselves and tried to eliminate their contribution to the relationship dysfunction without success, it may be time f​or the relationship to breakup.

​Sign 4: Your sex-life (or level of affection together) diminishes

Establishing and maintaining a healthy sex-life can be challenging in any relationship.This is particularly true in longer term relationships where many factors can affect the quality of a couples sex life. These factors include:

  • amount of time each partner spends at work
  • communication levels between the partners
  • presence and age of children
  • sleep issues
  • general fatigue
  • menopause, and
  • arguments and conflict

While maintaining a healthy sex life is challenging for most couples, changes in the couples sex-life can be problematic-especially if a coupes sex-life (or levels of affection) have diminished to almost zero.

​​As with all of these signs, awareness of the sign is the first step in trying to change it. A useful second step is to seek relationship counselling.

As with all of these signs, awareness of the sign is the first step in trying to change it. A useful second step is to seek relationship counselling.

Some simple steps for couples to try to re-ignite their sex-life (or to increase levels of affection between each other) include:

  • working on improving communication levels. In fact, for many couples communication (and the emotional connection good communication brings) is the key to a healthy and active sex life. This especially applies to being able to talk to each other in non-superficial, “deep” ways.
  • sharing sexual desires and expectations. Having the maturity ​to be open with your partner about what you want sexually is key to a good sexual relationship. As someone said to me once “If you cant talk about sex, you shouldn’t be having it.”
  • making a plan. As strange as it seems, planning to have sex together in a relationship is one of the keys to keeping a healthy sex-life. Too many couples expect sex to be as passionate and spontaneous as it was when they first met. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case-so planning sex is almost always a good idea!

​Sign 5: You ​focus ​on ​your ​partners ​flaws (​not ​their ​good sides!)

We all know that frustrations can build up in a relationship.

One obvious sign of this is that you may find yourself thinking more and more about your partners flaws-and not their strengths.

For some couples this phenomena can be an example of what is called “
negativity bias”.

Negativity bias is the tendency many people to give greater attention and weight to negative information. Australian couples therapist
Clinton Power states it this way:

​The brain is Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive experiences.

When it comes to relationships then it is easy to remember all the negative experiences we have had with our partner and the flaws that we perceive these demonstrate about our partner. These frustrations build up, and before we know it we are thinking of leaving our partner.

A simple anti-dote to our common negativity bias is to learn to mitigate the negative qualities that we see in our partner with a more positive quality. I tell many of my clients that one of the best ways to do this is to use the word “but” whenever you think of a complaint about your partner.

​For example, if your partner is often late for events, but when he or she turns up at the event, they are the life of the party, it is most useful to think of the situation this way:

“My partner is often late, but when he or she turns up they are the life of the party.”

This mitigation of the negative quality can prevent the perceived flaw of your partner from becoming too strong in your mind.

Sign 6: Refusing to see a Counsellor

​If things aren’t going well between your partner and yourself and your partner refuses to go to relationship counselling, this may be a sign that your relationship is not going to work out.

American Marriage and Family therapist,
Christie Tcharkhoutian ​ puts it this way:

​​If your dynamic is toxic and your partner does not want to try to work it out, then that is a big sign that the relationship may be over.

It’s similar to when you are driving a car and the emergency warning that you have a flat tire goes off. If you keep ignoring it and never pull over to change the tire, your car is going to drive off the road and lose control.

In the same way, the dissatisfaction in the relationship and the healthy dynamics are your warning sign for your relationship. If you don’t pull over and get help through going to therapy, your relationship is going to get off track..

In my practice I see this dynamic most commonly with male partners of women who are seeking relationship counselling. In fact, I often get asked the question “How do I get my partner to come to counselling?”. While there is not always an easy answer to this, some options include:

  • asking your partner to make a small commitment, such as ​attending one relationship counselling session. If after this session, he (or she) can’t see value in relationship counselling he or she does not need to come again
  • emphasizing that relationship counselling is not about blame. In fact it is about creating a better, more positive relationship that will benefit both of you
  • asking your partner what would make the relationship better
  • researching relationship counsellors first and presenting your partner with some options
  • coming to relationship counselling individually first, so that your partner can see that you are trying!

​In Conclusion...

​​The above six signs are not the only signs that your relationship may be over. In fact, there are an infinite number.

However, as I tell many of my clients, even though there may be ​many signs that your relationship may be over, it is never too late to start working on it!

As a relationship counsellor I have helped many couples recover from what they thought were almost hopeless relationships. Sometimes this takes time and energy, but if both people are committed, you can create almost any type of relationship that you want!

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