by Dr. Athena Staik
The science of intimate relationships has identified specific behavior patterns of partners that succeed in creating healthy, mutually enriching couple relationships. Partners who think and act in certain ways nearly guarantee themselves love relationships in which they feel fulfilled, loved and appreciated.
In perhaps one of the most thorough books this decade on the subject of healing marriage relationships, Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy, Dr. Brent J. Atkinson presents a tour of some of the most revolutionary findings from neuroscience and the science of intimate relationships, such as the work of Dr. Antonio Damasio on emotion and behavior and the groundbreaking work of Dr. John Gottman on “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.”
According to Dr. Atkinson, there are five “prerequisite” groups of skills that predict relationship success. Each group involves a set of skills. The five skill sets are as follows:
1. Partners use a ‘soft start-up’ when bringing up an issue.
A ‘soft startup’ refers to how partners communicate verbally and nonverbally, when they bring up issues, share a frustration, or express dissatisfaction. In contrast to a ‘harsh’ startup, a ‘soft’ startup takes an approach that is firm yet tactful and gentle, and avoids attacking the other’s character. Partners do not sugarcoat or beat around the bush, but they also do not talk down, or make disapproving or judgmental comments. Examples of a ‘soft’ and ‘harsh” startup are:
Soft startup: “I’m really upset that you forget our anniversary.”
Harsh startup: “How can you be so insensitive to not even get me a card?”
2. Partners accept one another’s influence.
In addition to delivering complaints tactfully, successful partners have the ability to respond to their partner’s requests or upsets without getting defensive. A top predictor of marital success, according to Dr. Gottman’s research, is the husband’s willingness to accept influence; culturally speaking, male partners are less willing than female partners to accept influence of the other. Remarkably, findings show a husband’s willingness to accept influence alone predicts marital success 80% of the time.
3. Partners know how to make “repairs,” following an upset, by offering assurance.
Even after a “failed” argument, however, where defensiveness and reactivity surfaced, successful partners know how to make effective repairs by offering assurance. This refocuses partners’ emotional and mental energies, and restores the hope and belief in one another and their relationship. In effect, assurance works much like a refresh button on the computer. An example of a statement that makes an effective repair is:
“We got worked up on this, and I said things I didn’t mean. I’m sorry. I’d like to start over fresh. I know we can do better. And I’m willing to work harder on this. Would you be willing to work together?”
4. Partners honor their own and their partner’s dreams and aspirations.
Successful partners are genuinely supportive of one another’s dreams and aspirations. Human beings are wired with inner emotional drives to be loved and valued in relation to the other. Along with these drives, partners also entered their relationships with conflicting expectations for how these inner strivings “should” be met. When resolved in healthy ways, conflict is nature’s plan to help us strengthen intimacy, as it affords an opportunity to help us get to know and understand ourselves and the other more deeply. When partners resist one another’s requests for change, it is often because one or both do not feel recognized or valued as individuals in the relationship. A wife who refuses to be on time, for example, may find it impossible to stop this behavior, in part, because this may be the safest way to, subconsciously, express their anger.
5. Partners observe a ratio of 5 to 1 positive to negative actions.
Last but not least, another key to lasting couple relationships has to do with what happens in the span of time between conflict and upsets. Interestingly, research shows that, while successful partners also have conflicts, they make time for something that distressed partners do not. They regularly interact in positive ways, for example, they express their appreciation, convey acceptance, plan fun outings together, share affection, flirt, and so on. Research by Dr. Gottman has identified a formula. Successful partners seem to adhere to a ratio of five to one positive to negative interactions.
In sum, studies suggest that partners have a much influence in how their partners treat them. The attitude that predicts failure is a quid pro quo attitude that proclaims, “I’ll change my behaviors if he or she changes theirs.” In contrast, the attitude that predicts success declares, “I think and act like a partner who is valued and treated well, regardless the situation, both during and between conflict!” In other words, research suggests that individuals not only treat their partner, and themselves, with the thoughtfulness they desire from the other – but also to think and act like persons who are unconditionally cherished!
Relationship consultant, author, and licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik’s passion is to lead individuals, couples and families to discover how to use powerful cutting edge tools to awaken, transform and live radiantly healthy personal lives and relationships. For more information visit www.drstaik.com,http://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/ andwww.Facebook.com/DrAthenaStaik.