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How can you have the loving and caring relationship you deserve?

Updated on July 9, 2008

Resolving Issues in a Committed Relationship

Is it possible to have deeply satisfying and successful relationships?

You may well wonder.

Especially if you and your partner have just had an argument that you've had countless times before. Or you've just had one of those complicated conversations in your effort to get things done, partly spoken words, partly signal codes and mind reading, that unexpectedly flared into your own private war zone. You are probably wondering why the simple conversation you started a minute ago suddenly turned into an exploding bomb.

The triggers could be anything: clothes on the floor, milk spilled on the counter, unwashed dishes, an unexpected large credit card bill, an overflowing rubbish bin, a shrug, a remark... I'm sure you would agree that no matter how small the event, when the atmosphere is right hostility sets in.

And although couples may be unhappy in their own ways, we all fight a similar fight, and get unhappy in a similar way for similar reasons. In relationships we say the same things and harden into the same positions. We get alienated and distressd. And all of a sudden we wonder where love has gone.

In the world today, intimate relationships (such as marriage) are ever more challenging to maintain. In the United States, for example, around 50% of first marriages end in divorce, usually within the first seven years. This rate is higher for every subsequent marriage. And for non-marital one-to-one intimate relationships the likelihood for separation is even higher.

Sadly, if you are in an unhappy relationship, or get divorced, you are more likely to get ill. Separation and divorce will also considerably affect people's finances.

And if you are able to stay in a happy, intimate relationship - it doesn't matter whether you are male or female - you will live around 4 years longer.

Who wouldn't want to live 4 years longer, especially when this involves being in a happy relationship?

Without care and attention, a relationship, like a building or even a civilisation, can easily crumble and get destroyed.
Without care and attention, a relationship, like a building or even a civilisation, can easily crumble and get destroyed.

Conflict in Relationships

Over the last 20 to 30 years, researchers have come to understand what actually happens when a couple are in conflict, and what actually happens when a couple's relationship is successful.

John and Julie Gottman for example videotaped couples 24 hours a day. They found that the difference between happy couples and unhappy couples is small. But that small difference - happy couples use about 100 more positive comments a day (just 30 seconds more of positive talking!) compared to unhappy couples - this difference is crucial.

Heated discussions and conflicts occur in even the best relationships. Couples in an effective relationship might get very emotional, and even angry when they talk about their issues. But you can avoid certain behaviours that are very destructive. And these include:

  • Starting the discussion harshly and angrily with a "You message", eg. "You never...", or "You always...", etc.
  • Criticising the other person instead their behaviour.
  • Having contempt for the other person. Gottman's videos found that contempt is shown nonverbally by raising your eyebrows, or rolling your eyes and sneering. Verbally, contempt is conveyed when you mock the other person's position, when you are sarcastic and your humour is hostile. Contempt is the most damaging of these behaviours, and research found that it is the fastest way to predict separation. It is also virtually nonexistent in successful relationships.
  • Being defensive. When you argue and even blame back, you will refuse to acknowledge the other person's concern or accept that they have a problem.
  • Stonewalling. Leaving the room or just simply not talking any more will make negotiation impossible.
  • Getting very emotionally heated, as a result of these behaviours. In such cases the person gets physically over-aroused, with a pulse above 95 beats per minute.
  • Failing to call for timeout to calm down, or to apologise and ask to start again, as the emotional temperature rises.

Reflective Listening

Learning how to handle conflict in a constructive way is very important in a successful relationship. One key ingredient is listening. We all want to be heard and understood. If you and/or your partner feel judged, rejected or misunderstood by the other, you will have great difficulties to solve your problems.

Reflective, or active, listening is a very important skill for relationships, and especially when you are in a conflict. Instead of reflecting back and paraphrasing what the other has said, and so making sure we have understood, we are usually too busy preparing our case, defending ourselves, and wanting to be right. Reflective listening is, however, an essential skill for finding a way out of your arguments and fights.


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    • profile image

      Gloria 6 years ago

      This article have realy given me an insight in my relationship. Thanks

    • Michael Noone profile image

      Michael Noone 10 years ago from Thailand

      This a great article as it clearly sets out some of the challenges that people can encounter in their relationships.

      I particularly like the 7 points which tell me what not to do.

      I am looking forward to your next post.

      Michael Noone