Relationship Woes…..And What To Do About Them
The greatest cause of divorce in the developed world is loss of love and affection, not the emergence of interpersonal issues.
This came from an extensive study of 168 married couples since 1979 by Ted Huston, Professor of Ecology and Psychology at the university of Teaxs, Austin.
Firstly he found that couples whose marriage begin in romantic bliss are particularly divorce prone because such intensity is hard to maintain. He then discovered that the breakdown of intimacy causes the biggest problems, far more problematical than the accumulation of any day to day disagreements or even conflicts of core values and tastes. The most essential component of a longer lasting relationship was the formation of intimacy and honesty patterns early in a relationship to afford a smooth transition from the romantic focus to a working partnership that would endure.
This strongly suggests that the traditional way of dealing with relationship problems in conflict resolution is not as important as focusing on preserving positive feelings within the relationship.
John Gottman is one of the worlds leading experts on relationships and what causes them to last or break apart. He can tell within 15 mins of watching a couple on video ( he does this extensively in his research lab) weather they they will be together after 15 years. After an hour of study his accuracy goes to 95%. He achieves these remarkably accurate results using a code to measure every emotion that a couple feels by interpreting the emotional content of their language and facial expressions.
Gottman will measure around 30 emotions. He will assign a number starting from 1 based on the severity of the negativity of the expression. Number 1 is disgust, contempt is 2, anger is 7, defensiveness 10 etc.
He also found that it didn’t really matter if couples fought like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor or avoided conflict by retreating into their own worlds. Even bouts of the worst expressions were OK , so long as “Repair Attempts” worked to break the negative cycle. The worst thing in a relationship was if the repair attempts were not acknowledged and or taken negatively and the negative comments continued to spiral out of control.
His work would show that the 4 Horseman of relationship demise is the increased use of criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness and contempt. As these spiral into a greater proportion of a couples communication pattern they quickly come to a point when repair attempts fail…..that tends to be the end of the leash when trust and intimacy are completely broken. Trust and intimacy can resolve conflicts as they appear…..however no amount of common ground can over come the loss of trust and intimacy.
Martin Seligman, the worlds leading expert in what constitutes happiness in humans, in his book “learned optimism” comes up with a simple formula, for a couple to stay in an harmonious existence, the rate of positive comments must be 5 times those of the negative. Otherwise couples tend to spiral into a negative sentiment zone where even positive comments are taken as a negative…..and that is very hard to pull up from.