Leading experts in couples therapy, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have been studying what works and doesn’t work in marriage for decades. The good news is that their research uncovered specific strategies that can help us create satisfying and stable relationships that last a lifetime. Below are three important tools that you can start using today:
- Express interest
It’s easy to forget to check in with our partner about their day, or to dismiss them when they attempt to connect, especially at the end of a long busy day. Asking questions and showing genuine interest in our partner when they initiate conversations can go a long way in creating a stronger connection. Remember to ask open-ended questions about your partner’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears and try to be present when they chose to share something about their day.
- Be gentle in conflict
Sometimes, in the safety of our relationships, we show up as our worst selves (especially during an argument). It’s easy to resort to criticizing, becoming defensive, shutting down, or acting superior. Instead, we should listen to our partners with openness, interest, and respect and acknowledge their feelings. When voicing our own emotions, we should avoid blame and instead focus on our own experience. For example, instead of saying “You never ever do the dishes,” share what you need from your partner: “I am feeling exhausted and would really appreciate some help here.”
- Repair negative interactions
Every couple has conflicts, fights, and times when they hurt one another, it’s how we handle these conflicts, how we repair these ruptures, that can bring us closer to each other or draw us apart. Admitting that we are wrong or that we made a mistake can be really hard for many of us. Taking responsibility, even if it’s just for part of the problem, can go a long way in making our partner feel understood. If we communicate with our partner to find ways to repair our relationship after fights or disagreements, then relationship conflicts can actually deepen our intimacy.
Many couples can benefit from applying these strategies in their relationships, and some find reading relationship help books (including Gottmans’) useful. If you continue to have concerns about your relationship, it’s time to seek out a skilled couples therapist.