Emotional Wellness

Check out these 6 tips for improving your relationship!

Recently, I have been curious and excited about the work of Drs. John and Julie Gottman, clinical psychologists who focus on couples, marital stability, and relationship analysis. In their 40 years of research studying thousands of couples, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have worked to increase their understanding of what exactly makes relationships work. The Gottmans’ research has sought to uncover what keeps happy couples happy and what prevents unhappy couples from being happier.

In doing this work, the Gottmans found that happy couples on average devoted an extra 6 hours a week to their relationship. How the 6 hours were divided often depended on the focus of what the couples wanted to improve, but some common tips were discovered.

Tip 1: Farewells
Happy couples work to learn at least one thing that is happening in their significant other’s life prior to saying goodbye in the morning. This could be a work meeting, getting the car’s tires changed, grabbing a coffee with a friend, or a dental appointment. The goal is to ask questions and learn about what desired and undesired events are happening in your partner’s day.

10 minutes per week (2 minutes a day x 5 working days)

Tip 2: Reunions
After the workday has ended and you have been reunited with your partner, share a hug and kiss that last at least six seconds. The Gottmans call this “a kiss with potential.” The six-second kiss is a ritual of connection that makes it more exciting to come home at the end of a day.

After the six-second kiss, have a supportive end-of-day conversation for at least 20 minutes. This provides you and your partner with the opportunity to share individual stressors and difficulties outside of your relationship that you are both experiencing.

1 hour and 40 minutes per week (20 minutes a day x 5 working days)

Tip 3: Gratitude and Love
It is important to find ways to communicate appreciation and love to your partner. The Gottmans refer to this as making deposits into a couple’s emotional bank account. Think about your relationship, identify what’s going right, and then communicate that to your significant other. Each time you do this, you will be making a deposit into your relationship’s emotional bank account, that way when inadvertently mess up your account does not become overdrawn.

35 minutes per week (5 minutes a day x 7 days)

Tip 4: Physical Touch
Taking time to express physical affection is important to staying connected with your partner. Focus on sharing a good night kiss or having cuddle time before falling asleep. Put your hand on their shoulder while pouring them a cup of coffee. Sit close to each other on the couch while watching Netflix. Think of these moments of physical touch as another means to contribute to your relationship’s bank account.

35 minutes a week (5 minutes a day x 7 days)

Tip 5: Date Night
This is critical. I often hear from couples that they do not have time for date night due to their demanding careers, caring for their elderly parents, and in particular caring for their children. Couples often share with me a laundry list of reasons why they do not have time to date. The sad irony is that the Gottmans’ research has shown that child-centered relationships often inadvertently create a home filled with tension, criticism, and defensiveness. Moreover, the children who live in those homes can become anxious, withdrawn, and introverted.

On the other hand, couples who make time for each other, and respond to each other’s needs provide their children with a more relaxed and happy home in which they can thrive. The Gottmans often encourage the couples they are working with to think of their relationship as a cradle. In the cradle is where your child rests. So, keeping that cradle strong and peaceful is the best thing couples can do for their children.

 2 hours once a week

Tip 6: State of the Union Meeting
The Gottmans’ research has shown that having one hour a week set aside for discussing areas of concern changes the way couples manage conflict. By creating a dedicated space for conflict, couples gain the freedom to share their concerns, insecurities, and fears, which allows them to be heard instead of neglected.

Sounds fun, huh? Seriously though, getting conflict out in the open prevents resentment from entering into your relationship. Start by talking about what is going well in your relationship since your last meeting. Then, go back to Tip 3 and share 3-5 specific things that you appreciate about your partner that you have not shared with them. Like, I appreciate you consulting me before you agreed to dinner plans with your boss. Or, thank you for calling about getting the furnace repaired.

Now, move into any issues that are a cause for concern in the relationship. Take turns being the speaker and the listener. As the speaker, communicate your concern in a gentle way, without attacking your partner’s character. As the listener try to postpone persuasion and focus on listening, to your partner and trying to see things from their perspective. If either partner starts to become defensive or feels triggered take a 20-minute break and return to the conversation. After both partners feel heard and understood and if the problem is solvable move to problem solving. If the issue discussed is not a solvable problem and is leading to gridlock, the goal is to move to dialogue. More about this in my next article.

1 hour once a week

So there you have it. 6 Tips 6 hours a week to a stronger relationship.

If you are an MSU employee, spouse, or benefits eligible family member of an MSU employee and would like to learn more about improving communication in your relationship contact MSU’s EAP to schedule a conversation with a licensed counselor today.

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