Do you know a happy couple? You know, with the type of relationship many people are looking for: they laugh together, they cry together, they take on the world together. You may wish you knew their secret or you might want to barf. Either way, this couple probably has a relationship based on a deep friendship.
Dr. John M. Gottman is a researcher, author and therapist with over 40 years of experience working with couples. According to Gottman, happy relationships are built on deep friendships consisting of mutual respect, enjoyment of each other’s company, intimate knowledge of one another and daily expressions of fondness.
Theses couples may argue, and they may even scream at one another, but they also have what Gottman calls “emotional intelligence.” This does not mean they are smarter than other couples. It does mean they are able to keep their negative thoughts about each other and their relationship from overtaking their positive thoughts. Some couples come by this naturally and others learn these skills.
Being intimately familiar with your partner and their world is an important factor in a happy relationship. Gottman says knowing your partner’s hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes, fears, stresses and joys will prepare you to cope with stressful life situations.
Knowing and understanding one another will keep you connected. But you must keep updating this information. Thoughts and feelings change over time, and so it is vital to keep communicating, to keep asking questions and to keep sharing. If there are things you think you do not know about your partner, ask. What is your favourite childhood memory? Do you believe in an afterlife? What is your biggest regret? What is one thing you would change about yourself? Do you love Taco Bell as much as I do? Sharing with your partner is a lifelong and worthwhile process.
Gottman thinks fondness and admiration are crucial in a happy relationship, and that couples must continue to remind themselves of their partners’ positive qualities.
This will prevent contempt from sneaking in. So when you are away from your partner try to think of their positive qualities and minimize your negative thoughts about them. Make an effort to notice the qualities and actions that you appreciate about your partner and let them know you appreciate them. For example, say “thank you for bringing me Taco Bell for dinner, I appreciate that you know how much I love it and that you don’t find me disgusting.”
Are you often on your cell phone? Take a minute to think about how this affects your relationship. Are you distracted? Happy relationships thrive on partners being aware of one another and paying attention. So set boundaries around phone use, and establish when your (and your partner’s) phone should be turned off. This shows respect for your relationship and your partner.
Heed Dr. Gottman’s advice, and your relationship could make you as happy as Taco Bell makes me.
Stacey Jacobs has been a Sex Educator for almost 2 decades. For 13 of those years she worked as a Sexual Health Educator at Planned Parenthood. She teaches in the Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies Program at the University of Waterloo and when not educating, she enjoys reading, walking her dogs and eating good food. The life of a Sex Educator is usually not as interesting as people assume.