Countless articles have been written about how to have a successful, long-lasting relationship or marriage, but none seem to be as simple and powerful as Dr. John Gottman’s ideas on what makes love last.
You see, many people cite “Irreconcilable differences” as the reason for broken relationships or divorce, but the idea that major differences in opinion end long-term relationships is actually a myth.
According to Gottman, a leading researcher and psychologist who has spent the past 40 years researching what makes love work, it’s not a difference of opinion that ends relationships; it’s the inability to communicate differing opinions or accept them as equally valid. Essentially, relationships live and die not by the sword, but by the quality of communication.
Moreover, because having healthy relationships means so much to many of us, we often feel other people judge us based on our choice of partner. As a result, our sense of worthiness gets attached to who and how our partner is. We project what we want our partner to be onto who they are, and get frustrated and even dismissive when they don’t live up to our projections.
If you are in a relationship and would like to know how you can make it strong and long-lasting, or you simply want to know what the chances of your relationship remaining intact over time are, there are five key points Dr. Gottman says you should look out for. These points will make any relationship more meaningful and long-lasting.
Gottman’s ideas for a lasting relationship should be common knowledge, but – unfortunately – they are seldom mentioned.
1. You begin conversations as gently and kindly as you would with an esteemed coworker.
This is especially true when it comes to sensitive conversations. You don’t begin interactions with sarcasm, contempt, anger, blame, criticism, and the like because doing so causes defenses to rise and the ability to communicate dissolves. Instead, you are kind and gentle always because you believe your partner is a true equal, as opposed to someone who is “beneath you.” When you believe someone is your true “equal,” you regard them as well as you would want them to regard you.
2. You complain, but you don’t criticize.
Getting upset and complaining about things like the dishes not being done or the toilet seat being left up again is normal and almost inevitable in a healthy relationship. But, as soon as the moaning and complaining shifts from “I’m really angry with you for not doing the dishes” to “You’re stupid/lazy/disgusting/irresponsible for letting this happen,” the relationship is headed for real trouble.
3. You are neither contemptuous to one another nor to other people.
Sadly, bullying tactics used in middle school, like name-calling, sneering, and mocking, are common in intimate relationships. But, relationships that employ these tactics don’t last. If you and your partner are not the type of people who would resort to that type of mentality to begin with, that is a good sign. It means you fight clean, and that will help your relationship weather many storms and last.
4. You are willing to absorb the blame so as to quell problems or bridge rifts.
You know it takes two to tango, and it takes two parties to create a problem. So, you are not always in defensive mode or determined to show your partner how and why they are wrong. You approach issues with “here’s how I think we got into this problem, and here’s how I’d like us to get out of it.”
5. You don’t “stonewall,” “tune out,” or ignore each other.
“Stonewalling” or “tuning out” your partner, particularly during rough patches in the relationship, is a sure way to hurt the relationship. Interestingly, Dr. Gottman’s research has shown that in 85% of marriages, men are the ones who “stonewall” their partners. Women are more capable of soothing themselves in stressful situations and so they are less standoffish or indignant about confrontation. Men — watch out for that.