Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist and researcher, has studied more than 3,000 married couples since 1970. Gottman has found that many popular relationship myths are not true, and has identified eight key findings that can help people make better decisions in their romantic relationships.
One of Gottman's most surprising findings is that active listening is not key to happy relationships. While many therapists emphasize the importance of active listening, Gottman found that this technique does not necessarily help to diminish relationship problems. In fact, only a small group of people were able to successfully practice active listening, and many relapsed after a year. Instead, Gottman found that happy couples tend to use positive affect and show genuine empathy towards one another. When a problem arises, happy couples will often show affection by holding hands or engaging in gentle physical touch. They will also acknowledge each other's feelings and apologize if necessary.
Another common myth that Gottman debunked is that happy couples do not fight. In fact, Gottman found that fighting is not a predictor of divorce. Couples who fight less are actually less satisfied over time because they tend to let things build up. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge and address conflicts as they arise. It is better to seek help sooner rather than later, as waiting too long can lead to the buildup of unhappiness and anger.
According to Gottman, there are three key factors that differentiate happy couples from unhappy ones when it comes to starting discussions: tone of voice, level of complaint, and partner's first reaction. Happy couples tend to start discussions in a calm way and avoid using harsh tones of voice. They also tend to bring up specific incidences when making complaints, rather than insulting the person in general. Finally, happy couples tend to stay calm and open to suggestions during discussions.
Gottman also found that happy couples disrupt their arguments. In traditional couples therapy, the uncomfortable person is often forced to endure their feelings during an argument. However, Gottman found that happy couples interrupt their arguments in various ways. Some couples tell jokes, while others talk about something irrelevant for a while. The key is to avoid escalating the argument to the point where the person's heart rate goes above 100, which can cause them to lose control of their emotions. Happy couples use techniques like having a code word, such as "Hullaballoo," or using yellow and red soccer referee cards to signal when it's time to take a break from the argument and cool down.
Finally, Gottman found that happy couples do not necessarily resolve their problems. In fact, 69% of the 3,000 couples he studied never resolved their conflicts. Instead, they learned to manage them. Happy couples often accept that some problems may never be fully resolved and focus on learning to live with them. They also tend to avoid bringing up past conflicts during new discussions, which can cause more problems.
In conclusion, Gottman's research has identified several key findings that can help people improve their romantic relationships. These findings include the importance of positive affect and empathy, acknowledging and addressing conflicts as they arise, starting discussions calmly and specifically, interrupting arguments to avoid escalation, and managing conflicts rather than necessarily resolving them. By incorporating these practices into their relationships, people can improve their chances of building and maintaining a happy and healthy partnership.
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