6 Steps To Improve Your Relationship Now
By Julie Raymond, LCPC
Dr John and Julie Gottman have created one of the best known couples therapy approaches. Researched for over 20 plus years, they were able to discover what truly makes a relationship stand the test of time. Through the use of Gottman's work, these 6 steps will help any relationships improve and stand the test of time.
Avoid the 4 horseman. These are defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling.
Criticism-this is exactly what you might think it is. It is criticizing someone or in other words attacking their character. An example of this would be “god you are so lazy you never take out the trash”. We want to turn criticism into moving towards the person. Gottman calls this a “longing”. Using the taking out the trash example this would sound like: “I’ve had such a long week and am exhausted, it would mean so much if you helped me and took out the trash”. You want to move from criticism into identifying your feelings and asking for what you want.
Defensive: Criticism almost always leads to defensiveness. One way to combat defensiveness is to avoid criticism. The other is to accept responsibility from your partner. Saying “that’s a good point, I can help out more with household chores”.
Contempt: This looks like superiority and put downs. It could sound like “I work a lot harder than you, I shouldn’t have to take out the trash”. You can counter this by describing your own needs and feelings.
Stonewalling: This is withdrawing from the person. Usually not verbally responding and checking out of what is happening. It might sound like “oh okay whatever you say” or dismissing through eye rolls or looking away. To remedy this, work on self-soothing, as often times stonewalling happens when a person feels flooded with emotions.
2. Take 20 minutes to calm down separately. Gottman's research shows it takes about 20 minutes to calm down and be in a good place to be able to listen to one another.
3. Conflict is a natural part of a relationship and doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, conflict is a sign of a healthy relationship. In times of conflict practice “turning toward” with humor (and really any time!). Humor can be a great way to diffuse conflict and be able to have better resolution to conflict. Turning towards your partner with humor or affection are attempts towards connections, often times conflict can lead to disconnection between couples if they are not fighting fair and left to sit with an unpleasant interaction.
4. Think of a stressful time. Tell your partner what is helpful for you in a stressful time. Ask your partner to think of a stressful time for them and ask them what is helpful from you to do. Typically the best way to be supportive is to not to try to solve your partners problems but to rather listen empathetically (saying “wow that sounds so difficult”) and asking non judgmental questions about how they are/were feeling.
5. Practice daily cuddling! Gottman’s research has found that only 6% of couples who do not cuddle regularly have a satisfying sex life.
6. Have a weekly date! This one is important for creating time to build intimacy, a ritual for connection and to make sure you are not rejecting the needs of your relationship because you are distracted by everyday stressors that might come up like work, friends, kids, and other life responsibilities.