By: Cristina Trette
All couples have their rough moments. Fights, missteps, and miscommunications will happen. It is unrealistic for our relationships to be blissful 100 percent of the time. Yet, some relationships dip into the negative too often. This can leave both partners with ongoing stress which is not healthy or satisfying.
John Gottman, PhD and author of “What Makes Love Last” has dedicated his career to researching couples. Gottman's research tells us to aim for having a ratio of five positive moves to every one negative one.
The 5 to 1 ratio is not an arbitrary formula. It turns out that couples who hit the 5 to 1 ratio are more likely to stay happily married, while those with more negativity are more likely to divorce.
If you are frustrated in your relationship there are several key moves that you will want to stop doing (or at least do less of)! Keep reading.
Blame is common! It can happen fast, often below our level of consciousness. We do this out of self-protection. It is far easier to say our mistakes are the result of external factors instead of looking at what we are doing to create our problems.
“Things would be great between us if only...
she was not such a nag…
he would help with the kids and house…
she would want more sex…
he would be home more”.
Focusing on what he/she does that frustrates you does not create change. It will only keep you stuck.
Self-blame is also unproductive. Although it will be beneficial to examine all the ways you contribute to your dynamic, blaming yourself entirely for your relationship struggles is counterproductive. Both of you are in this cycle.
When working with couples, I help them shift blame to the cycle itself. This allows couples to join together against their struggles. It is often a relief to know that neither one is at fault, but instead, they get swept up in a cycle that leads to all sorts of difficulties. Together they are empowered to change the cycle, not the other person.
All of us will be negative sometimes. We have hard days and bad moods. Sometimes we vent or complain. It is normal and healthy to be able to share our upset. This not the type of negativity that I am talking about.
Toxic negativity is different. It centers around wanting to bring down your partner and hurt him/her in some way, whether this is conscious or unconscious. Critical comments, passive aggressiveness, put-downs, will add up and take a toll on the wellbeing of your relationship.
Underneath harshness or criticism is almost always a yearning for closeness and feelings of hurt. This does not excuse the hurtful behavior but it should provide more insight. It should also provide hope because there is so much room for growth.
Find ways to express your feelings, needs, and requests with respect and grace. If either you or your partner are not able to do this on your own, start couples therapy with a therapist trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy or attend one of my couples workshops.
You will have complaints about your partner. Everyone has shortcomings.
It is likely you will judge your partner from time to time. But if judgment is taking up a lot of space, this will be important to explore.
Often, our judgments have more to do with our self than they do the other person. Take a look within yourself and see if there are certain behaviors or qualities you have that you may want to shift.
On the other hand, if your partner is doing something with his or her life that creates a lot of angst within you, it is important to take action.
See if you can shift from judgement to acceptance, of yourself and of your partner. Then, if needed, take action.
Defensiveness prevents meaningful communication. It also prevents learning and growth. When someone points out my mistakes, I can quickly go to defense.
I have learned that the moment I want to defend is the perfect moment to stop talking and start listening.
The next time you catch yourself wanting to defend, see if you can pause. Then try to hear and accept what the other has to say. If you stay quiet and listen, it is possible you will learn something very important about yourself, your partner, or the relationship.
If you want to learn more ways to improve your relationship, consider joining my next Couples Workshop. And if you have discovered certain moves that took a toll on your relationship, I would love to hear about them in the comments box below.
Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT is a busy mother and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her passion is centered on helping couples and parents create thriving relationships, families, and wellbeing.
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