Beating the odds: key predictors of successful relationships

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 40-50 percent of marriages today end in divorce. The reasons for these dismal statistics are varied, but the good news is that with commitment and work, couples can beat the odds.

One of the most highly respected, extensively researched approaches to couples counseling is the Gottman Method, based on the work of renowned couples therapist John Gottman and his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman. Through decades of research, including studies of more than 3000 couples, the Gottmans discovered that there are certain factors, or key predictors, that contribute to the success or failure of a relationship.

Below are some of the behaviors found to be key predictors of long term relationship success.  Note that these findings are not limited to married or heterosexual couples, but include any two people who have committed to sharing their lives together, regardless of gender, sexuality, or defined relationship status.

Communicate respectfully

In every relationship, there will eventually be conflict. But how you communicate with one another during conflict makes a big difference. A couple’s conflict management style has been shown to be one of the most significant factors in determining a relationship’s staying power. Many studies have shown destructive behaviors such as criticism, yelling, and withdrawing to be the greatest predictors of divorce.

On the other hand, constructive behaviors, such as listening to your partner’s point of view, using “I” statements rather than blame, and compromising, were pivotal in predicting relationship success.  

The first step is talking openly about problems, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you. “Keeping concerns or problems to yourself can breed resentment,” John Gottman says. “When discussing tough topics, though, it pays to be kind.” 

Express fondness and admiration

Make a concerted effort each day to nurture gratitude, both for the relationship and for your partner. What do you admire or respect about them? In what ways do they make your life richer? Recognizing these qualities and, more importantly, expressing appreciation for them helps to foster an atmosphere of fondness and admiration—what Gottman calls the antidotes to contempt. You can express appreciation through small gestures such as cooking your partner’s favorite meal or taking on some extra household chores, or simply by sending a text to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Gottman recommends “sprinkling yeses” throughout your interactions to improve your relationship. He compares a relationship to a saltshaker, suggesting you fill it with all the ways you can say yes. For example: “Yes, that’s a good idea,” or “Yes, that’s a great point, I never thought of that."

Get to know each other’s worlds

How well do you know your partner? Not only their history, but their hopes and worries? Their joys? Making an effort to get to know your partner is what the Gottmans refer to as building love maps, the road maps of your partner’s inner psychological world.  

Everyone wants to feel seen, to feel known. This is what true intimacy is all about.

The Gottmans suggest asking open ended questions, such as, “What was your most embarrassing moment or worst childhood experience?” “What personal improvements do you want to make in your life?” and “What is your greatest insecurity?” Remaining curious and simply remembering to pay attention will help you continuously fill in the details of your love maps. Everyone wants to feel seen, to feel known. This is what true intimacy is all about. 

Build trust and commitment

Trust is knowing that your partner has your best interests in mind. It’s knowing that whatever challenges life brings, you’re on one another’s team. In other words, trust is the feeling that you “have each other’s backs.” Commitment is the extent to which you prioritize one another and stick it out through even the most challenging times.

Ask yourself the following questions: How reliable a partner are you? What can you do to show your partner they can depend on you to be there for them? Without the pillars of trust and commitment, all other relationship factors are moot.

We all want to feel safe and secure within our relationships. To make sure your partner knows you have their back, always take their feelings into consideration; make sure they know they are a top priority in your life and—this one’s my own—never take them for granted.

Working with a couples therapist

Sometimes relationship conflict can be best worked out with the help of a couples therapist. The goals of couples therapy, and the Gottman Method in particular, include generating more understanding between partners, resolving conflict constructively through calm discussions, and increasing respect, affection, and closeness.

Relationships, like most things in life worth having, require dedication and work. Whether you work on your relationship alone or with the help of a professional, by implementing the behaviors described above, it's possible to increase your odds of success and beat the statistics.

 

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DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allison Abrams, LCSW-R is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in depression, self-worth, relationships, and careers.  She also works with corporations across business sectors to help employees manage stress and improve communication and leadership skills. She has been quoted as a relationship and mental health expert in publications such as Redbook, Livestrong, Everyday Health, Glamour and Prevention, and is a topic expert contributor for PsychologyToday, The Huffington Post, and GoodTherapy. Allison works with Lyra to provide high-quality evidence-based therapy to employees in the tech industry.