Everyone is looking for that special someone. It could be a special member of the opposite sex, or a friend who was loyal and trustworthy. Even those diehards who claim they do not need a relationship in their lives would change their sour tune if they could find that compatible someone and make the relationship work.
Jeanette and Robert Lauer, researchers and authors of “Marriage and Family: The Quest for Intimacy,” analyzed successful relationships to see if they could determine what kept them together. Most frequently named reasons included a generally positive attitude toward each other, being best friends, and liking each other as persons.
Qualities successful couples respected in each other were caring, giving, integrity, a sense of humor, finding the other physically appealing and being likable. The Lauers also discovered that successful significant relationships were marked by a desire for a “long-term commitment.”
Successful couples maintain that they often had to grit their teeth and plunge ahead in spite of difficulties that inevitably came along. Couples also have to be willing to be unhappy for a while; be in agreement about their goals in life, have a strong desire to make the relationship succeed and laugh together. Playfulness is another characteristic that holds couples together.
Author John M. Gottman, during his research for his book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” found that the best predictor of a successful partnership was a couple’s ability to communicate effectively before commitment. Another important key to success is how well a couple deals with conflict. According to Gottman, unhappy couples are more defensive, fighting for their own point of view and neglecting to acknowledge their partner’s concerns. Going into defense limits a person’s ability to listen, which only fuels more defensiveness.
A major predictor of success in handling conflict was their ability to build empathy. Gottman maintains that women tend to take the first step toward negotiating during a disagreement.
“This may be due to the cultural socialization that makes women responsible for keeping relationships together,” said Gottman.
In dealing with conflict women tend to express feelings about it; “John, I feel unhappy because you are going out with the boys again, without me.”
Men are more likely to approach a conflict as a problem to be solved; “Helen, you make it sound like I’m always going out with my friends. That’s not a fact.”
Research shows that a man’s lack of responsiveness to his partner’s emotional needs is a major cause of unhappiness in many relationships.
“This equating emotional with non-rational, this inability to comprehend the ‘logic’ of emotional likes and dislikes, is at the root of much discontent between the sexes,” said sociologist Lillian Rubin, author of “Families on the Fault Line.” “If a man consistently fails to respond to a woman’s emotional signals, she will eventually be drained of her wiliness to do what is necessary to keep the relationship together.”
Couples who have disconnected maintain that the most damaging thing to their relationship was coping with the continual frustration of arguing over the same problem again and again. Successful couples agree, in advance, on a method for solving problems. They focus on identifying and resolving situations versus focusing on personality characteristics.
Differences will inevitably crop up. How a partnership resolves these differences makes the difference between success and failure. Unless it is a major life style crisis, most other decisions are just over small stuff. Things you would not even bother with over the long haul. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
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Jaine Carter, Ph.D., is the author of the book “He Works She Works” and wrote a national weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service. Dr. Carter is a relationship coach working with people to help break down barriers and build bridges toward win/win solutions.