Love is the top reason people say they marry. Love trumps lifelong commitment, companionship, children and financial stability as a reason for partnering (Pew Institute survey, 2013). Love is not a merely romantic notion.
Researcher Barbara Frederickson has shown that moments of love involve physiological changes that have immense value for physical and mental health. Dr. Frederickson writes in her book, Love 2.0, that moments of love last minutes at a time, so the more we have, the better. People who experience more love live longer, healthier lives.
We seek primary relationships because, in the beginning, we get moments of love on a regular basis. For some, this lasts a lifetime. Relationships are therefore a health care concern and the U.S. is not doing well.
This country has the world’s highest divorce rate. Fifty percent of first marriages end within 20 years. Forty-nine percent of cohabiting couples split within five years and 63% within 10 years (National Center for Health Statistics, 2013).
Many people in distressed relationships believe it is more their partner’s fault. This human response is rarely true according to research. Partners engage in damaging behaviors at nearly the same rate.
The top four behaviors that predict poor relationship outcome are: criticism, withdrawal, defensiveness, and contempt. Marriage researcher John Gottman calls these “The Four Horsemen.”
Contempt, thinking that you are better than your partner, leads to poor outcomes 90% of the time. Make a face as if you are smelling something bad. That’s your contempt face.
The other three horsemen are present in the best relationships. The quality of the relationship will be determined by how you react when your partner is defensive, criticizes you, or withdraws from the conversation. Successful couples handle “poor behavior” from their partner differently than unsuccessful couples.
Happy couples also exhibit more loving behavior. Dr. Gottman calls this “turning toward one another.” These couples show their partners they are important and create moments of shared connection.
Moments of shared connection build a “love bank” that protects the couple during difficult times. In happy relationships, couples create five positive moments for every negative moment.
Practicing better relationship skills is difficult when you are drowning in bills, laundry and resentment. The first step is the hardest. You will need to lay down the belief that your partner is more responsible for your relationship problems than you. Once you do this, you can begin healing the resentments and hurts that keep you apart.
The statement, “They’re getting divorced,” once raised eyebrows. Now it barely gets a shrug. Relationships in the U.S. are becoming disposable. Yet people want what marriage and relationships offer. In a 2008 study, 76% of teenagers said a good marriage and family life are extremely important. But their hopes for achieving this were not so strong.
Is that what we want for our children’s future or for ours?
Charles Hughes works with couples in Oak Park and via telecounseling.