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7 Secrets of a Happy Marriage Revealed by a Relationship Expert

7 Secrets of a Happy Marriage Revealed by a Relationship Expert

To use the words of Dr. John Gottman (founder of The Gottman Institute, with over 40 years of research into married couples) – Are you a “Relationship Master” or a “Relationship Disaster”?

Understanding the keys to a happy marriage could mean the difference between making or breaking your relationship with your significant other.

In this article, we explore the 7 secrets (also known as Principles) for a happy marriage revealed by Dr. Gottman himself (in collaboration with Nan Silver) in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

1. Enhance Your Love Maps

This principle is based on understanding your partner and their world, to help maintain intimacy and better prepare you both to deal with stressful events and conflict that may arise in your marriage. Gottman calls this having a “love map” of your partner.

Make Your Own Love Maps

Write down then discuss information about your partner including:

  • Important people in your partner’s life (friends, potential friends, rivals/enemies)
  • Recent important events in their life
  • Upcoming events
  • Current stresses / worries
  • Hopes / dreams / aspirations

“Who am I” Self-Exploration Exercise

Write down then discuss:

  • My triumphs and strivings
  • My injuries and healing
  • My emotional world
  • My mission and legacy
  • Who I want to become

2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

This principle is based on working to increase, recall or unearth positive emotions about each other. The fondness and admiration aspects of your relationship are the antidote to contempt.

Start by Writing ‘I Appreciate…’

Then list 3 or more positive characteristics that you appreciate about your partner, along with a memory or specific example of each one, then share it with your partner.

For example:

“I appreciate that you always know how to cheer me up. The other day when I had a really hard day at work, you cooked dinner, put on a funny movie and let me vent to you about what was bothering me, this helped me and I felt so much better afterwards.”

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Highlight the Positive History of Your Relationship, and What Brought You Together as a Couple

Reminiscing about the positive parts of your time together, and why you were drawn to each other is a great way to bring your focus back to you as a couple.

3. Turn Towards Each Other, and Not Away

This principle is based on the idea of staying positively connected. According to Gottman,

“[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”

This is referred to as turning towards your partner’s “bids” for emotional connection.

When you turn towards, you engage with your partner and let them know you value their presence and what they have to say. You can turn towards by making eye contact, smiling, and responding with validation. It also adds to the “emotional bank account” and allows for greater leeway during conflict.

Relationship Masters turn towards each other 86% of the time; Relationship Disasters turn towards each other a mere 33% of the time.

Turning towards creates:

  • Trust
  • Emotional connection
  • Passion
  • Satisfying sex life

Gottman’s top tips to practice Turning Towards your partner’s emotional bids:

  1. Take turns to speak
  2. Don’t give advice, just listen
  3. Show genuine interest
  4. Communicate your understanding
  5. Take your partner’s side
  6. Express a ‘we against others’ attitude
  7. Express affection
  8. Validate emotions (empathize)

4. Let Your Partner Influence You

This principle is about making decisions together and looking for common ground (sharing the power in your marriage).

Letting your partner influence you isn’t about having one person in control of everything; it’s about honouring and respecting both people in the relationship.

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Listening to your partner and being open to compromise and /or changing your opinion, instead of digging your heels in just to be right are some of the essential ingredients in this principle.

Answer Gottman’s quiz questions to see how well you accept your partner’s influence (challenging yourself by thinking how you would answer these questions during conflict):

  1. I am interested in my partner’s opinions on issues in our relationship. (True/False)
  2. I don’t try to convince my partner to see things my way all the time. (True/False)
  3. I don’t reject my partner’s opinions every time we argue. (True/False)
  4. I believe my partner has important things to say and value them. (True/False)
  5. I believe we are partners with equal say in our relationship. (True/False)

If you said “true” to all of the above, you are likely to accept your partner’s influence.

5. Solve Your Solvable Problems

This principle is about problem solving and communication.

According to Gottman, there are two types of marital problems: conflicts that can be resolved and perpetual problems that can’t be solved. It’s important for couples to determine what they are experiencing in their marriage.

Here’re Gottman’s top tips to solve your solvable problems:

Soften Your Startup

Start the conversation without contempt or criticism. One way you can do this is to make statements which start with “I” instead of “you”.

Learn to Make and Receive Repair Attempts

In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to start the ‘blame game’ and go into attack mode when your partner attempts to ease the disagreement by apologising or taking responsibility for the issue.

Consider this example:

Person A: “I know I messed up here, can we please talk about this later?”

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The blame game option would be for Person B to say something like “yes, you have messed up, I’m so annoyed with you and I want to sort this out now”.

Notice the difference if Person B said “thank you for saying that, yes let’s talk about it later when we’ve both calmed down”.

It’s important to learn to acknowledge and receive repair attempts. And also, to learn to make repair attempts yourself.

Soothe Yourself and Then Your Partner

When tension is at an all-time high, it is nearly impossible to rationally see things from your partner’s point of view or even to communicate exactly what you want to say without it potentially being misunderstood.

If you feel yourself getting heated during a conversation, let your partner know that you’re overwhelmed and take a 20-minute break (the usual amount of time it takes for your body to calm down). You can also try closing your eyes, taking slow, deep breaths, relaxing your muscles and visualizing a calm, happy place.

After you’ve calmed down, you can try to help soothe your partner. Ask each other what’s most comforting and do that.

Compromise

When conflicts arise, it’s important to take your partner’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. Also, a part of accepting influence, compromise is an important part of reaching amicable solutions.

Be Tolerant of Each Others’ Faults

This step is about being tolerant of your partner’s vulnerabilities and ineffective conversational habits, keeping the focus on shared concern for the well-being of the relationship.

6. Overcoming Gridlock

This principle is about overcoming gridlock through open communication with your partner about your hopes, aspirations, and life goals.

Gridlock in a marriage is just like gridlock in traffic – where you are at a complete standstill because you both disagree on how to move forward. A couple can experience gridlock on any issue, and often the more gridlocked they are in an argument, the more gridlocked they become on other things as well.

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Through his research, Gottman has uncovered that gridlock is often caused when people’s deepest dreams and desires are blocked. Happy couples believe in the importance of helping each other achieve their dreams, and move past these blocks.

According to Gottman,

“Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.”

Here’re Gottman’s top tips to overcome gridlock:

  1. Empathize with your partner – find out their side of the story, listen carefully and empathize.
  2. Be respectful – think about what kind of partner you want to be, and what kind of partner they would want to be with.
  3. Make temporary compromises – find common ground and make compromises to get out of the gridlocked state.
  4. Recall the honeymoon phase – remember the early days of getting to know each other, when you weren’t trying to change one another, you were curious about the person you just met.

7. Creating Shared Meaning

This principle is about developing shared meaning together over a longer period of time to build a deeper connection in your marriage.

Shared meaning encompasses a couple’s legacy – the stories they tell, their beliefs, and the culture they create to form a shared meaning system.

Part of building a relationship that is full of meaning is prioritizing time and resources into the relationship; and having shared goals and a shared vision for your future.

Couples who take the time to create shared meaning and goals they can work towards together are more likely to experience deeper intimacy – a hallmark of matured and lasting love.

Here’re Gottman’s top tips to build a stronger marriage with shared meaning:

  1. Share a common dream or vision
  2. Create daily or weekly rituals of connection
  3. Implement your shared goals

The Bottom Line

By following these 7 Principles (or Secrets) and really exploring what you can each bring to the relationship, couples can cultivate long lasting, happy marriages.

You can learn more about Dr. Gottman, his research and work with his wife Dr. Julie at The Gottman Institute.

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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Amy Milnes

A relationship coach empowering people to create and maintain loving and lasting relationships.

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Last Updated on January 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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