Overall Family Optimization Skills
Relationships have the power to be positive or negative forces in our lives—depending on the quality of the relationship. Positive family relationships have been described as being "stress absorbing systems" . However, positive family relationships require work. It is a myth that people are born knowing how to have a good relationship, and it is another myth that those who are not happy in their relationships have somehow failed.
Latest findings indicate that ALL relationships need attention to be happy and productive. Indeed, in all relationships it is important to focus on and practice specific behaviors that foster positive feelings.
Learn to be More Loving
DCoE explains that you cannot change another's behavior, but you can focus on and change your own for better results. In fact, changing your behavior will disrupt the normal pattern in the family and could create positive results. Try it out. Click here for more information.
Expectations and Reality
DCoE describes how to take care of your own needs in addition to your partner's needs. Their counselors explain the need for realistic expectations, good communication, and respect for each other as essentials of a good relationship.
Know your Partner’s Love Language
Often in relationships, each partner expresses love and interprets love in distinct ways. Based on his experience as a marriage and family therapist for 30 years, Gary Chapman identified five love languages that couples use to communicate their feelings: words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, physical touch, and quality time. Visit his website, "The 5 Love Languages," for more information and to take an online quiz.
The Power of Being Positive
Shifting your thoughts from negative to positive has profound effects on your outlook, stress level, and health. This same shift can greatly enhance your relationships. For every ONE negative interaction in a relationship, FIVE positive interactions are needed to make up for that one negative [3-14]. Given that negative interactions in relationships tend to be contagious and spawn more negative interactions, this ratio has powerful implications.
Negative Interactions Increase Your Risk for Unhappiness in Relationships
Research has found that the quality of the interactions during the first three minutes of a conversation between newly married couples about a marital conflict predicts marital stability versus divorce six years later [4,9,15]. Specifically, stable marriages display more positive emotions and less negative emotions during the first few minutes of a conversation. Additionally, there are some gender differences: Husbands who eventually became divorced displayed increasingly more negative and fewer positive interactions throughout a 15-minute conversation .
Conflict in Relationships
Conflict itself is not destructive for relationships if the conflict is resolved. However, conflict that includes any of the following four characteristics is "lethal" to relationships and foretells marital dissatisfaction as well as divorce [3-8,10-11,16-19]. They are called the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" and are: criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness . Try to eradicate them from your interactions.
Criticism: "Attacking someone's personality or character—rather than a specific behavior—usually with blame" .
Contempt: "Words or thoughts that show a lack of respect for the partner during an emotionally charged situation like an argument" .
Stonewalling or Withdrawal: "Removing oneself from the interaction in a manner that conveys disapproval, icy distance, and smugness" .
Defensiveness: Verbally attacking your partner in an argument  and responding to your partner with excuses, denial of responsibility, negative solutions, and negative mind reading [3-8,10-11,16-19].
Couples Resilience: Ability to Rebound from Negative Interactions
It is important to rebound from negative interactions and interact positively with your partner afterwards. In a study of communications between couples, those who displayed fewer negative emotions (i.e., anger, disgust, and contempt) in conversation following a negative exchange were much more likely to be together (i.e. not divorced) four years later [6-7,19]. Indeed, lack of such resilience in conversation occurred in over 90% of couples who became divorced [6-7,19]. This emphasizes the importance of clearing the air each time after a conflict or argument.
Tips on How to Make Your Relationships Stronger
Dr. John Gottman's Family Research Lab has conducted numerous research studies on couples and family interactions. From decades of research, the group has been identified the following tips for how to keep relationships strong:
- Seek help early.
- Edit yourself.
- Soften your "start up."
- Accept influence.
- Have high standards.
- Learn to repair and exit the argument.
- Focus on the bright side.
Additionally, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, funded TheTwoOfUs.org, a project on healthy relationships. They identified the following qualities in great relationships:
- Accept each other for who you are. Don't try to change the other person.
- Identify and compliment the characteristics that you admire about the other person.
- Nurture affection in the relationship.
- Learn and practice listening skills.
- Learn and practice conflict resolution skills.
- Have a fun time together.
- Learn your partner's love language.
- Be a united team.
- Learn from mistakes.
- Honor commitments.
Know when you need support and where to get it.
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