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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

More by this author

Amy Milnes

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

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Published on May 4, 2021

How To Spot Fake People (And Ways To Deal With Them)

How To Spot Fake People (And Ways To Deal With Them)

They say we are the average of the five persons we spend the most time with. For a minute, consider the people around you. Are they truly who your “tribe” should be or who you aspire to become in the future? Are they really genuine people who want to see you succeed? Or are they fake people who don’t really want to see you happy?

In this article, I’ll review why it is important to surround yourself with genuine individuals—the ones who care, bring something to our table, and first and foremost, who leave all fakeness behind.

How to Spot Fake People?

When you’ve been working in the helping professions for a while, spotting fake people gets a bit easier. There are some very clear signs that the person you are looking at is hiding something, acting somehow, or simply wanting to get somewhere. Most often, there is a secondary gain—perhaps attention, sympathy, or even a promotion.

Whatever it is, you’re better off working their true agenda and staying the hell away. Here are some things you should look out for to help spot fake people.

1. Full of Themselves

Fake people like to show off. They love looking at themselves in the mirror. They collect photos and videos of every single achievement they had and every part of their body and claim to be the “best at what they do.”

Most of these people are actually not that good in real life. But they act like they are and ensure that they appear better than the next person. The issue for you is that you may find yourself always feeling “beneath” them and irritated at their constant need to be in the spotlight.

2. Murky in Expressing Their Emotions

Have you ever tried having a deep and meaningful conversation with a fake person? It’s almost impossible. It’s because they have limited emotional intelligence and don’t know how they truly feel deep down—and partly because they don’t want to have their true emotions exposed, no matter how normal these might be.

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It’s much harder to say “I’m the best at what I do” while simultaneously sharing “average” emotions with “equal” people.

3. Zero Self-Reflection

To grow, we must accept feedback from others. We must be open to our strengths and to our weaknesses. We must accept that we all come in different shapes and can always improve.

Self-reflection requires us to think, forgive, admit fault, and learn from our mistakes. But to do that, we have to be able to adopt a level of genuineness and depth that fake people don’t routinely have. A fake person generally never apologizes, but when they do, it is often followed with a “but” in the next breath.

4. Unrealistic Perceptions

Fake people most often have an unrealistic perception of the world—things that they want to portray to others (pseudo achievements, materialistic gains, or a made-up sense of happiness) or simply how they genuinely regard life outside themselves.

A lot of fake people hide pain, shame, and other underlying reasons in their behavior. This could explain why they can’t be authentic and/or have difficulties seeing their environment for the way it objectively is (both good and bad).

5. Love Attention

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest sign that something isn’t quite right with someone’s behavior can be established by how much they love attention. Are you being interrupted every time you speak by someone who wants to make sure that the spotlight gets reverted back to them? Is the focus always on them, no matter the topic? If yes, you’re probably dealing with a fake person.

6. People Pleaser

Appreciation feels nice but having everyone like you is even better. While it is completely unrealistic for most people to please everyone all the time, fake people seem to always say yes in pursuit of constant approval.

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Now, this is a problem for two reasons. Firstly, these people are simply saying yes to things for their own satisfaction. Secondly, they often end up changing their minds or retracting their offer for one reason or another (“I would have loved to, but my grandmother suddenly fell ill.”), leaving you in the lurch for the 100th time this year.

7. Sarcasm and Cynicism

Behind the chronic pasted smile, fake people are well known for brewing resentment, jealousy, or anger. This is because, behind the postcard life, they are often unhappy. Sarcasm and cynicism are well known to act as a defense mechanism, sometimes even a diversion—anything so they can remain feeling on top of the world, whether it is through boosting themselves or bringing people down.

8. Crappy friend

Fake people are bad friends. They don’t listen to you, your feelings, and whatever news you might have to share. In fact, you might find yourself migrating away from them when you have exciting or bad news to share, knowing that it will always end up one way—their way. In addition, you might find that they’re not available when you truly need them or worse, cancel plans at the last minute.

It’s not unusual to hear that a fake person talks constantly behind people’s backs. Let’s be honest, if they do it to others, they’re doing it to you too. If your “friend” makes you feel bad constantly, trust me, they’re not achieving their purpose, and they’re simply not a good person to have around.

The sooner you learn to spot these fake people, the sooner you can meet meaningful individuals again.

How to Cope With Fake People Moving Forward?

It is important to remind yourself that you deserve more than what you’re getting. You are worthy, valuable, precious, and just as important as the next person.

There are many ways to manage fake people. Here are some tips on how to deal with them.

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1. Boundaries

Keep your boundaries very clear. As explained in the book Unlock Your Resilience, boundaries are what keep you sane when the world tries to suffocate you. When fake people become emotional vampires, make sure to keep your distances, limit contact, and simply replace them with more valuable interactions.

2. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

Sadly, they most likely have behaved this way before they knew you and will continue much longer after you have moved on. It isn’t about you. It is about their inner need to meet a void that you are not responsible for. And in all honesty, unless you are a trained professional, you are unlikely to improve it anyway.

3. Be Upfront and Honest About How You Feel

If your “friend” has been hurtful or engaged in behaviors you struggle with, let them know—nicely, firmly, however you want, but let them know that they are affecting you. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, you’ll feel better and when you’re ready to move on, you’ll know you tried to reach out. Your conscience is clear.

4. Ask for Advice

If you’re unsure about what you’re seeing or feeling, ask for advice. Perhaps a relative, a good friend, or a colleague might have some input as to whether you are overreacting or seeing some genuine concerns.

Now, don’t confuse asking for advice with gossiping behind the fake person’s back because, in the end, you don’t want to stoop down to their level. However, a little reminder as to how to stay on your own wellness track can never hurt.

5. Dig Deeper

Now, this one, I offer with caution. If you are emotionally strong, up to it, guaranteed you won’t get sucked into it, and have the skills to manage, perhaps you could dig into the reasons a fake person is acting the way they do.

Have they suffered recent trauma? Have they been rejected all their lives? Is their self-esteem so low that they must resort to making themselves feel good in any way they can? Sometimes, having an understanding of a person’s behavior can help in processing it.

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6. Practice Self-Care!

Clearly, putting some distance between the fake person and yourself is probably the way to go. However, sometimes, it takes time to get there. In the meantime, make sure to practice self-care, be gentle with yourself, and compensate with lots of positives!

Self-care can be as simple as taking a hot shower after talking to them or declining an invitation when you’re not feeling up to the challenge.

Spotting fake people isn’t too hard. They generally glow with wanna-be vibes. However, most often, there are reasons as to why they are like this. Calling their behavior might be the first step. Providing them with support might be the second. But if these don’t work, it’s time to stay away and surround yourself with the positivity that you deserve.

Final Thoughts

Remember that life is a rollercoaster. It has good moments, tough moments, and moments you wouldn’t change for the world. So, look around and make sure that you take the time to choose the right people to share it all with.

We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so take a good look around and choose wisely!

More Tips on Dealing With Fake People

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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