John Gottman at the University of Washington has researched thousands of couples and found that happy couples do things like show interest, being affectionate, show they care, being appreciative, show concern, are empathic, accepting towards each other, joke around and share their joy.
Emotional intimacy is key to attachment – happy couples have a sense of attachment to each other and the relationship. They feel safe with each other and are able to open up emotionally which leads to feeling connected, empathetic and feeling like they know each other well. Happy couples have a communication style that involves high disclosure. Also they are highly empathetic. It seems that empathy is the key to having an emotional connection and emotional intimacy.
Happy couples fight fairly – happy couple are not always happy, like all couples they fight and get frustrated with each other. The difference between happy couples and unhappy couples lies in their style of conflict. There are 4 types of conflictual behaviors that are corrosive for couples: escalation, invalidation, negative interpretation and withdrawal. Escalation is a communication style that feeds into the conflict and makes it more emotionally intense. Invalidation happens when a partner doesn’t acknowledge or validate the other’s experience or emotions because they are too busy wanting to be right. Negative interpretation happens when partners look for hidden motives often based on past experiences. Withdrawal leaves both parties feeling like they weren’t heard and leave the conflict unresolved. Happy couples have a respectful way of communicating which leads to feeling validated and heard.
Happy couples are friends – happy couples treat each other with love and respect, they are “partners in crime” and truly are each other’s best friend. They each have a well-defined sense of self (contrary to codependent couples) but they practice selflessness and overcome their innate narcissism for the sake of love. Each partner is also capable of subordination and consider the other’s needs as much as they consider theirs. This also includes negotiating differences, power, roles and individual pride. They also realize that they may not change everything. There may be aspects of their partner that will simply have to tolerate. This gets complicated when certain traits in the partner do not appear until certain relationship milestone like marriage, children, moving in together, etc.
Happy couples have intentional rituals – whatever the form couple’s rituals leave them feeling closer to each other. Couple time is extremely important especially after having a child or a demanding job promotion. During highly stressful times couples need to recognize the importance of taking care of their relationship, even if at times it may feel self-indulgent. Time with each other needs to become a priority because relationships often do not maintain themselves and tend to fall apart if not properly nurtured.
Happy couples respond rather than react – every relationship goes through stressful times, often from things that have nothing to do with the relationship or things that are beyond one’s control. During highly stressful times, some people get overwhelmed with emotion and react to the situation in a highly emotional way that they often later regret. Happy couples show emotional intelligence: being able to understand one’s emotions and those of others and respond to them rather than react. Responding means doing 3 things: calming down, engaging in detoxifying self-talk and adopting a non-defensive listening and speaking stance.
Are you a happy couple? How do you solve conflict? Are you empathetic towards your partner? How does stress affect your relationship?