By Ashlyn King
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it seems that everyone is talking about their relationships. For some, the thought of love, a romantic relationship, or even a close friendship is exciting. For others, having a good relationship feels unattainable. Regardless of our romantic and relational experiences, as humans, we are wired for relationships and we need other people in order to thrive. However, the reality is that sometimes we shy away from relationships in order to protect ourselves from being hurt.
So how do we build relationships that are healthy and life-giving, instead of relationships that continue negative cycles and heartbreak? Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman provide some practical advice for building healthy and happy relationships. While the Gottman’s research focuses on romantic relationships, these principles can be applied to any relationship including families, friends, roommates, or coworkers.
The Gottmans talk about “The Sound Relationship House.” Like a house, a strong relationship is built on a good foundation of friendship, and is built by affection, positive regard, and trust, among other things. Regardless of how old your relationship is, these four tips can help you as you build a loving relationship.
- Build a Foundation of Friendship
How much do you know about your partner’s likes and dislikes, dreams, and feelings? What causes them stress and anxiety? What do they dream for the future? The Gottmans encourage couples to create Love Maps, or a list of what you know about your partner’s inner world. Knowing each other in this way is the foundation of a good relationship and may increase your feelings of intimacy.
- Share Fondness
What do you like and appreciate about your partner? It is so easy to look for mistakes instead of appreciating the good in your partner’s personality, gifts, and perspective. Instead of looking at the things that annoy you, try to look for what your partner does right. When you build habits of respect and affection instead of disapproval or blaming, your relationship will have a more solid foundation.
- Turn Towards Your Partner
Imagine that your significant other interrupts you to point out the beautiful sunset. Do you ignore them because you are annoyed at the interruption? Or do you join them at the window to admire the colors? This is an example of turning towards versus turning away. Turning towards your partner doesn’t have to mean that you drop everything when they speak, but it means that you acknowledge their attempt to connect with you. You choose to see them and respond in small ways. It’s an attitude of turning toward them emotionally instead of turning your back.
- Manage Inevitable Conflict
Contrary to common belief, healthy relationships are not free from conflict! Because every individual has their own perspectives, desires, and needs, conflict happens naturally in relationships. Conflict is inevitable but doesn’t have to damage a relationship. Even in conflict, it is essential to have a ratio of 5 to 1 positive to negative effect. This means five positive interactions such as humor, affection, or empathy. The Gottmans encourage couples to use skills such as a softened startup (using “I” instead of “you” statements), accepting influence (listening to your partner and being willing to see their perspective) and repair attempts (acknowledging and apologizing when you are wrong).
Building good relationships takes intentional commitment and it’s tough! If you feel stuck in your relationships, or find that you are having difficulty in other areas of life, it may be helpful to seek therapy. Therapists at the Center for Family and Couple Therapy are trained to help couples and individuals work through difficulties so they can thrive. Call (970) 491-5991 to set up an appointment or visit the CFCT website.
Finally, some relationships can be hurtful. If you feel unsafe in your relationship, if your partner has ever threatened you, has been physically or sexually violent, or has withheld food or money from you, please contact Crossroads Safehouse at 1-888-541-7233. You deserve to experience good relationships.
Ashlyn King is a first-year graduate student in CSU’s Marriage and Family Therapy program in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and a therapist at the CFCT. She is from Oklahoma City and completed her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Science at Oklahoma State University. When she is not studying, you can find her in a coffee shop with a paintbrush in hand, enjoying the ski slopes, or hosting dinner parties for her friends.
Additional tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board.