The survival statistics for any relationship, in or out of marriage make depressing reading. Over half of all marriages end in separation or divorce and the stats for longer term relationships out of marriage are even worse. Elizabeth Laura Nelson puts it like this…
We’ve all heard the statistic: about half of all marriages end in divorce. And while there’s some debate about the accuracy of that figure, there’s no doubt that far more than half of marriages end up as loveless, sexless partnerships full of simmering resentments and unspoken despair, whether or not they endure.
Its not a pretty picture and I bet most of us will recognize this scenario even if we haven't been to these depths ourselves. Its a question of degree really because there are lows and highs in all relationships. Its not all bad... but its not all good either in any relationship.
So is that inevitable? Is there something we can do to improve the 'general' quality of our relationships? Absolutely yes... there is. It's about habits. 4 specific habits.
Now I'm talking about relationships here which have some history. This applies to couples in relationships who can genuinely say that they have had periods in their relationship when things were better. This implies they have been together for a reasonable period of time and that there is a depth of real attachment between them despite the problems they're facing.
Habits develop over time. They are repetitive patterns of behavior which can be good or bad. They tend to occur subconsciously. There are certain habits in relationships which are very damaging. Relationship expert John Gottman has identified 4 of these relationship habits which are particularly common and destructive. Here they are:
Habit 1 - CRITICISM
Criticism comes in a variety of flavors. Its perfectly ok to have complaints about your partner, but the way you express them is here the problem comes in. If your man (or woman) leaves their stuff all over the place in your home, you have every right to ask them to clean up and put stuff away. By doing that you are criticizing them but you are not morphing it into an indictment of their character.
On the other hand if you were to say " you're a filthy slob, why don't you clean up now and again" you're getting proper personal and attacking their character. People generally don't mind too much being asked to do something. People do mind when you label them in a negative way because it hurts their own image of themselves.
Habit 2 - BEING DEFENSIVE
This one is also mostly a guy thing. The man shuts down and 'tunes out'. He refuses to talk about what is bothering him and why. The couple ends up unable to talk about their relationship or the problems in the relationship. This can come from being panicked and overwhelmed by the situation. He is shocked by whats happening and retreats into silence. The message, intentional or not, is that they don't care what their partner is going through. This is very hard on the other partner because it can be read as the man simply doesn't care what they're thinking or feeling.
Gottman recommends the best thing to do is take a break - a period of separation to allow the stonewalling partner to regain their composure and perspective. A break will often allow them to recover the compassion needed to re establish the relationship on a kinder and more considerate basis.
Habit 3 - STONEWALLING
This one is mostly a man thing. It has 2 distinct forms. The first one is the 'counter attack'. In response to what he perceives as unfair criticism, his defense is to counter attack. This then descends into a shouting or slanging match which leaves you both breathless and wondering 'how the hell that happened'. Not a good outcome.
The other form of defensiveness is the calculated 'woe is me' response. It goes like this. He says something like "you are so right, I'm just a slob. You would be better off without me... etc." As the woman you are undermined by this mock humble and penitent response and generally end up comforting and reassuring him. Nothing is resolved and the problem is left to pop up again in the next few days.
Habit 4 - CONTEMPT
This is the worst of all 4 habits. Contempt is a powerful emotion. If either partner feels contempt for the other - there is little chance of the relationship surviving. Contempt is a strong signal that you think you're better than your partner. Contempt generally builds over time and is characterized by long festering negative thoughts about your partner. Partners that feel contempt for the other partner usually have an (unjustified) opinion that they're better than their partner and they're doing them some kind of favor by being with them.
Sarcasm, mockery and cynicism a acts of contempt. If thats you... take a long, hard look in the mirror.
The antidote is as simple as making a decision to be kind. Think about it... If your partner is such a loser and you hate him so much, why are you with him? If he's not those things, why are you being so mean?
Contempt is like a festering sore. If you don't treat it, it gets worse.
Most of this stuff is about common sense and compassion. Unless you're a masochist or a sadist you're not going to hang around in a dysfunctional relationship. So the fact you're still together indicates your relationship has a future and is worth your time and effort to improve. One of the greatest joys of human interaction is to see someone you love's face light up with happiness when you're really nice to them. try and get back there if you're having problems in your relationship. It's so worth it. You'l find a really great resource here to help you (affiliate link).
You know deep in your heart whether you're in a relationship which has potential. These are hard to find so when you do find one, treasure it. Go through the 4 bad habits above and make damn sure you're not guilty of any of them. You'll be fine. Here's a great free resource on building lasting relationships as well as a bunch of great reasons why you love your partner.
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