Couples who make it work

‘Follow your bliss’. I see it, hear it, read it constantly in my never-ending research on what it means to live and work well.  One man, whose passion it was to get a date and have a girlfriend, began researching and studying ‘what makes couples work’ over those who couldn’t seem to get it right. Thirst four years later, his intrigue and passion to understand has made him a legend.  World renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, John Gottman has conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples. Dr. Gottman is the author of 190 published academic articles and author or co-author of 40 books, including the bestselling The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work; What Makes Love LastThe Relationship CureWhy Marriages Succeed or Fail; and Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child, among many others.

I recently posted a collection of his videos on my Facebook page (

They were so simple and insightful I thought I would share with you some of his ‘bottom line’ discoveries from studying 3000 couples in his love laboratory. What we know about human beings is that they thrive in supportive, intimate and satisfying relationships. We are driven to connect to others and yet we struggle/suffer so much trying to build these bonds.

This is what he identifies as minimum requirements for a ‘supportive, intimate and satisfying relationship’:

  • Know your partner (what they like, what is important to them, how they like to spend their time, their preferences, their hopes, dreams and desires)
  • Fondness and appreciation (as a consequence of friendship, having a shared meaning and purpose together, honouring each other’s life dreams)
  • Respect and affection (not avoiding conflict but creating a habit of constructive conflict)
  • Turning toward your partner (wanting to be there for each other when it matters)

It’s not rocket science and yet we struggle so.

It does of course involve picking the right partner for yourself and knowing how to choose the right person for you, which is why I started ‘Dating Deliberately’. Friendship needs to be the basis of the relationship in order for us to feel interested and concerned about our partners.  There are no good or bad partners only a better or worse match for each of us, so the more we know and understand ourselves, the better equipped we are to choose a quality life partner/friend.

The tricky part I think is the skill of ‘constructive conflict’. It not WHAT we fight about but HOW we fight that is most important to the longevity of our relationships. Gottman suggests the following format for a constructive argument:

The upset spouse is to communicate in 3 steps

  1. I am” + the feeling (sad, angry, hurt, disappointed, scared etc – or just ‘upset’)
  2. “About” + the facts of the matter (a broken promise/forgot our anniversary/spent the rent money- instead of describing your partners perceived deficiency in their character/personality)
  3. I would really like/appreciate/need” + suggestions of how your partner can make it better (for you to honour our agreements/be more considerate of me/spend less on unimportant stuff)

In my experience, that is the start of the conversation. It is about expressing your thoughts and feelings in a constructive way with a focus on fighting the problem, not the person.

It is crucial to be able to make requests of our partners so that they can understand what is important for us and then they can negotiate around that – very few people can actually mind read yet we assume our partners can.

‘Requests are a powerful linguistic tool for generating desirable future realities. They are indispensable to enhance our participation in the world. Making effective requests is an issue of the human soul…

Key ingredients for making effective requests:

  • A direct request is spoken
  • The future action to be performed is specified
  • A time frame is specified
  • Standards are made explicit
  • There is shared understanding of terminology
  • The request is to a specific listener
  • The reason for the request is clear
  • The emotional context is clear
  • Care is taken in the words used

In short, not making request is a huge source of suffering’*

It sounds simple.

Simple but mostly we complain instead of making a request e.g. “It is freezing in here!” instead of , “I’m really cold, please close the window there is a draft in here” or “You are such an idiot” instead of “Please close the door when you go outside, I don’t want it to slam closed and break.”

Over time, not expressing how we feel and not asking for what we want generates resentment and anger toward our partners. We believe it is their fault, when actually it is because we are not being assertive about what it is that is important to us. We are not standing up for ourselves and what matters to us. Then one day, when we are tired and impatient, we lash out and say the most hateful hurtful things. And, every time that happens we are beating the sh1t out of our relationships. Not really conducive to creating respect, fondness and appreciation L

A small exercise to help you express yourself better: Reflect on the following

  • Who are you not making effective requests to and about what?
  • What is the cost to your relationship?
  • What are you going to do about it?

You are worthy. Your needs are equally valid to anyone else’s. Ask for what you want so that you can follow your bliss. Create a few happy moments a day between you and your loved ones and you will find yourself living a wonderful, happy life.

A happy life is just a string of happy moments. But most people don’t allow the happy moment, because they’re so busy trying to get a happy life. The Teachings of Abraham – Esther Hicks.

* Coaching to the Human Soul: Ontological Coaching and Deep Change. Volume I pg 223. Author: Alan Sieler