Five Skills that Predict Success in Marriage Relationships
By ATHENA STAIK, PH.D.
By ATHENA STAIK, PH.D.
|Love & Marriage|
Thanks to advances in research methodology and neuroscience, relationships are now a science. The science of love relationships has identified several specific behavior patterns of partners that succeed in creating healthy, mutually enriching couple relationships. Partners who think and act in certain ways nearly guarantee themselves love relationships in which they feel fulfilled, loved and appreciated.
First, the good news is both you and your partner are wired for love, your body’s health depends on it.
Second, you are wired to release a certain love hormone, Oxytocin, the chemical known as the “cuddle hormone,” in response to certain behaviors.
Feeling loved and secure has everything to do with knowing how to create an Oxytocin response that makes you and your partner feel loved and secure.
What about couples that don’t currently have Oxytocin response patterns in place?
“No, problem,” says neuroscience. Because of the brain’s neural “plasticity,” a lifelong ability to grow and develop new neural circuitry, partners can learn to rewire their own and their partner’s love patterns, even late in life.
In perhaps one of the most thorough books this decade on the subject of healing marriage relationships, Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy, Dr. Brent J. Atkinson presents a tour of some of the most revolutionary findings from neuroscience and the science of intimate relationships, such as the work of Dr. Antonio Damasio on emotion and behavior, and the groundbreaking work of Dr. John Gottman on “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.”
According to Dr. Atkinson, there are five “prerequisite” groups of skills that predict relationship success. Each group involves a set of skills. The five skill sets are as follows:
1. Partners use a ‘soft start-up’ to bring up an issue.
A ‘soft startup’ refers to how partners communicate, verbally and nonverbally, when they bring up issues, share a frustration, or express dissatisfaction. In contrast to a ‘harsh’ startup, a ‘soft’ startup is an approach that is firm yet tactful and gentle, and avoids attacking the other’s character.
A soft-startup allows partners to express any dislikes or upsets without defensive strategies that blame or attack the other’s character or the relationship, and that are more likely to trigger both partners’ survival strategies. Partners do not sugarcoat or beat around the bush, but they also do not talk down, or make condescending or judgmental comments.
Examples of a ‘soft’ and ‘harsh” startup are:
Soft startup: “I’m really upset that you forget our anniversary.”
Harsh startup: “How can you be so insensitive to not even get me a card?”
2. Partners are open to their partner’s influence.
In addition to delivering complaints tactfully, successful partners have the ability to respond to their partner’s requests, criticism or upsets without getting defensive. A top predictor of marital success, according to Dr. Gottman’s research, is the husband’s willingness to accept influence. Culturally speaking, male partners are less willing than female partners to accept influence of the other. Still today, many men are raised to not accept influence of their partners, as proof of “masculinity.”
The facts speak for themselves, however. Remarkably, findings show a husband’s willingness to accept influence alone predicts marital success 80% of the time.
3. Partners know how to make “repairs” after an upset.
Even after a “failed” argument, however, where partners defensiveness and reactivity were triggered, successful partners know how to make effective repairs by offering assurance. This refocuses partners’ emotional and mental energies, and restores belief in one another and their relationship. In effect, assurance works much like a refresh button on the computer. To relationships it offers a refreshing, and often critical, infusion of hope. An example of a statement that makes an effective repair is:
“We got worked up on this, and I said things I didn’t mean. I’m sorry. I’d like to start over fresh. I know we can do better. And I’m willing to work harder on this. Would you be willing to work together?”
4. Partners honor one another’s dreams and aspirations.
Successful partners are genuinely supportive of one another’s dreams and aspirations. Human beings are wired with inner emotional drives to matter, to feel valued in relation to the other. Along with these drives, partners also enter their relationships with conflicting expectations for how these inner strivings “should” be met. This conflict is natural, even healthy. It’s all about “how” partners attempt to restore their sense of safety and love. When resolved in healthy ways, conflict is nature’s plan to help strengthen intimacy, an opportunity to better understand themselves and the other. When partners resist one another’s requests for change, it is often because they either do not feel recognized as an individual, or they feel their partner is not fully committed to the relationship. A partner who is repeatedly late or forgets anniversaries, for example,, may be indirectly expressing anger for issues that are avoided or left unresolved.
Successful partners feel valued and are not dependent on the other to make them feel valued. Their shared vision and personal goals helps them look beneath the circumstances, identify the unfulfilled expectations, and move past challenging situations more quickly and easily.
5. Partners observe a 5 to 1 ratio of positivity.
Last but not least, another key to lasting couple relationships has to do with what happens in the span of time between conflict and upsets. Interestingly, research shows that, while successful partners also have conflicts, they make time for something that distressed partners do not. They regularly interact in positive ways; for example, they express their appreciation, plan fun outings together, share affection, flirt, and so on. Research by Dr. Gottman has identified a formula. According to his findings, successful partners seem to adhere to a ratio of five to one positive to negative interactions.
In sum, studies suggest that partners have more influence in how their partners treat them that they think. As with work environments, attitude is everything in relationship building. The attitude that predicts failure is a quid pro quo attitude that proclaims, “I’ll change my behaviors if he or she changes theirs.” In contrast, the attitude that predicts success declares, “I think and act like a partner who treats my self and partner with dignity, regardless the situation — during and between conflict!” In other words, partners who succeed do not approach their relationship as a competition. Instead, they not only treat their partner with the thoughtfulness they desire in return – they also think and act like persons who feel confident enough to deal with issues. In other words, the ability to not take things personally.
Individuals who want their partner to treat them better are willing to get out of their comfort zones and try new behaviors.
Practicing certain behaviors or thinking patterns, albeit new and uncomfortable, works.
The effort creates new neurons and other neurons to “fire and wire” together in “new” ways, and when they do repeatedly, the new patterns are strengthen and reinforce new electrochemical pathways. And, when partners let go of old limiting patterns, their brains eliminate or “prune” the problem-causing neural pathways. That’s more good news.
Whether it’s with soft startups, allowing influence, offering assurance, honoring one another’s dreams or maintaining a 5-to-1 ratio of positivity, you and your partner can discover how to consistently respond in ways that release Oxytocin response, and the result?
You are more likely to amp up your sense of love, security and closeness with one another by the natural release of this love and safety chemical. That’s the best news.
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