Years of helping couples as a therapist means I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly when it comes to couple relationship dynamics. I even added to my experience with a thesis on the topic that confirmed the importance of emotional intelligence and attachment styles (sense of felt security in close relationships) as contributors to couple satisfaction. So, here’s the juice on how I can guess pretty accurately whether a couple is likely to last or fall apart permanently under pressure. For me there’s 3 major factors:
1. Turning towards one another.
Psychologists Gottman and Gottman and others have spent many years examining the most important components of couple relationship satisfaction, and they really got it right on this one. What it means in a nutshell is being kind and giving your attention to your partner when they make a move towards you to connect, talk or express themselves to you. I see love as a special form of attention, meaning that love really isn’t felt without the giving of a positive, kind presence towards the other person, especially under pressure or when you don’t agree. Couples that last turn towards one another seeking comfort, support and solutions to problems tend to be strengthened by challenges rather than destroyed. Those who habitually turn away from one another when there’s a problem, withdraw, lash out or look to outsiders for help, tend to be on a road to unhappiness.
It’s usually easy to spot whether there’s any trace of friendship left between partners, even in troubled times. Some will still manage a joke, a smile, an expression of hope or a good memory in couple therapy, but others are just past that point. When there’s a lasting joyless, flat deadness in the energy between partners, there isn’t much scope for a future together. A lack of friendship makes it really difficult to connect to something deeper in the relationship, now or in the future. Friendship means knowing one another well, being interested in each other’s lives and creating shared meanings together. As author Eli Weisel wrote, The opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s not caring.
The destruction of trust is difficult to return from. Generally couples must build a new relationship and new way of seeing one another to recover from serious breaches of trust. Far better than recovery is prevention – by maintaining transparency in your relationship. Couples who are hiding secrets, ranging from online porn use to secret texts, hidden spending or secret liaisons with other people, are at great risk of destroying their relationship as trust disintegrates.
Secrets are usually kept out of shame and fear of disapproval from the other partner. That means apart from surprise presents, secrets generally aren’t very healthy signs. That doesn’t mean however, that you should share every mundane detail of your lives – there is a balance. Eroticism and passion thrive on a little mystique and you can cultivate a little mystique in an overall trusting and transparent relationship – it just takes a little creativity.
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