0

Self-Care: Responsibility and Review

What makes for a happy, fulfilled relationship?

Share this post:

Author Terry Gaspard‘s perspective on self-awareness in “the blame game” is inspired by Dr. John Gottman’s research, a belief in the individual agency, and wisdom gained from personal experience. Check out the links in the article to review these Gottman concepts more deeply.

To see the following piece in its original form, click here.

I Love You, But Please Change

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

What makes for a happy, fulfilled relationship? While this is a complex question that doesn’t lend itself to a quick answer, there are aspects of successful and lasting relationships that have been studied by experts and many approaches to pick from. The good news is that if you are in a relatively happy relationship, there are some simple things you can do — positive behaviors — that can make your relationship better.

Fortunately, even if you’re in a relationship or marriage that’s heading in a bad direction, there are strategies that can set you and your partner on the right path again. After studying marital success and divorce prevention for decades, my hero is renowned psychologist John M. Gottman, and I’m about to explain why. But first, let’s start with the premise that it’s crucial to examine your own actions and to adopt realistic expectations about your partner’s willingness to change.

Do you spend more time second-guessing your partner’s comments or reactions than examining your own behavior? While I believe it’s important to be vulnerable with your partner — to be open and reveal yourself without fear of rejection — it’s also critical to take responsibility for your own actions. While vulnerability can enhance intimacy between you and your partner, it’s important not to blame your relationship problems on negative traits that you see in them.  Dr. Lisa Firestone writes, “The focus needs to shift away from how to “fix” the other person and toward a broader view of how to repair the relationship.”

A typical example is Tim and Megan, both in their mid-thirties and married for seven years. “I’ve been unhappy for some time,” complains Megan. “I’ve asked Tim to be more considerate of my needs, but things don’t appear to be changing. It feels like I’m at the bottom of his list.” To this Tim laments: “Megan just doesn’t make me happy anymore and things just aren’t getting better.” The common thread in these statements is this couple’s focus on “fixing” the other person rather than on taking specific actions to change their part in a relationship dynamic that is undesirable.

Let’s face it, it’s easy to complain about your partner and many self-help articles, movies and TV shows highlight the merits of fixing other’s shortcomings. For instance, in a recent hit movie Enough Said Eva, (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), seemed happy with her new boyfriend Albert (the late James Gandolfini) until she became friends with Marianne (Catherine Keener) who pointed out her ex’s faults incessantly. One big take away for me was that if we’re relatively satisfied with our partner (as Eva was prior to getting close to Marianne) focus on their positive traits rather than on fixing their flaws (like how they eat or their wardrobe).

After years of research, Gottman has revealed seven principles that will prevent a marriage from breaking up. After reviewing his book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, I’ll highlight four principles that I’ve seen change the dynamic of a marriage in a positive way. Keep in mind that one of Gottman’s guiding principles for a successful marriage is the five- to-one ratio — meaning for every negative interaction in a relationship, you need five positive interactions.

1.  Nurture fondness and admiration: Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities — even as you grapple with their flaws — and express your positive feelings out loud several times each day.

2.  Let your partner influence you: Search for common ground rather than insisting on getting your way when you have a disagreement. Listen to their point of view and avoid the blame game.
3.  Overcome a gridlock: Often perpetual conflicts go unresolved when we get stuck in negative patterns of relating such as the distance-pursuer pattern — a tug-of-war where one person actively tries to change the other person, and the other resists it.
4.  Create shared meaning together: Dr. Gottman found that couples who have an intentional sense of shared purpose, meaning, values; and customs for family life — such as rituals for holidays — are generally happier.

In Gottman’s acclaimed book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, he uses a metaphor of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (depicting the end of times in the New Testament) to elaborate on his theory of couples communication. This metaphor can be used to describe the following communication styles to depict the end of a relationship.

1.  Criticism: According to Gottman, criticizing your partner is different than offering a critique or voicing a complaint. The latter two are about specific issues, whereas the former is an attack on the person. Consequently, you are cutting to the core of their character when you criticize. For instance, a complaint is: “I was worried when you were late. We agreed that you’d call when you were running late.” Versus a criticism: “You never think about me, you’re so selfish!”

2.  Contempt: When you communicate in this manner, you are being disrespectful — using sarcasm, ridicule, mimicking, icy tone of voice or name-calling. The goal is to make the person feel despised or worthless. 

3.  Defensiveness: We all get defensive at times — especially when a relationship is on the rocks or we feel we’re being treated unfairly. However, defensiveness is a way of blaming our partner and not taking responsibility for our own actions. 

4.  Stonewalling: This is when one partner shuts down or withdraws from the interaction. Unfortunately, this becomes a habit and issues that get swept under the rug are never resolved — leaving the partner who feels hurt even more resentful.

In closing, be sure to pay close attention the next time you are in a challenging situation with your partner and examine the part you play. Keep in mind Gottman’s guiding principle of adding more positive interactions — a five-to-one ratio. Next, see if you can spot any of the Four Horsemen and then observe their effects on your partner. Don’t take love for granted or expect that your partner will alter their behavior simply because you’ve asked them to. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own happiness. So next time you feel upset at your partner, check out what’s going on inside yourself — at the very least — pause and reflect before you place the blame on them.

Share this post:

The Gottman Institute’s Editorial Team is composed of staff members who contribute to the Institute’s overall message. It is our mission to reach out to individuals, couples, and families in order to help create and maintain greater love and health in relationships.

Recommended products

Original price was: $250.00.Current price is: $179.00.

Our Best prices of the year on the Gottman Relationship Adviser. 

Celebrate Dads this month.

Sale Ends Soon!

The Gottman Relationship Adviser is a complete approach to relationship wellness. Measure your relationship health with the research-based Gottman Assessment, analyze five key areas of your partnership to identify your strengths and weaknesses, then start a tailored, step-by-step digital program proven to heal and strengthen your connection—all on your schedule and from anywhere.

The Adviser uses the legendary scientific Gottman Method to help you understand what’s really going on in your relationship—and gives you exactly what you need to improve it.

Original price was: $119.00.Current price is: $79.00.

Research-based Foundations for a Lifetime of Love.  The Gottman Relationship Coach is an inspiring and educational multimedia experience designed to enhance the well-being of relationships. Participants will be guided through research-based tools and communication skills that can transform relationships—all based on the popular Gottman Method. The first program, “How to Make Your Relationship Work”, is now available and includes:

  • The Gottman Method and How to Make Your Relationship Work
  • How do we predict the future of a relationship?
  • How to build a Sound Relationship House
  • What to do when the destructive Four Horsemen enter your relationship

“Buy Now” will take you to GOTTMAN CONNECT to purchase and view this product.

Original price was: $599.00.Current price is: $480.00.

Created by “the Einstein of Love” (Psychology Today), this two-day workshop is grounded on what actually works in relationships that are happy and stable. See for yourself why millions of couples worldwide have benefited from the Gottman Method.

Quote from participant in most recent Live Virtual Workshop:

The Art and Science of Love workshop- where do I begin? It was an absolute stellar workshop. We were looking forward to this for weeks, and it exceeded our expectations! It was well-structured, and well-organized, and provided a wealth of information with real-time demonstrations of how to work through specific scenarios. The outstanding support that was provided throughout the exercises with therapists on standby- WOW! Priceless!

Includes the Art & Science of Love box set.  Please allow time for shipping.  Please Note: This is a live online event. To attend, you will need a reliable internet connection. Our staff will reach out to you with your personal registration and access information.

$30.00

Improve your relationship in 30 days! Backed by over 50 years of research, the 30 Days to a Better Relationship challenge will help you reconnect with your partner and bring more positivity into your relationship. The tools and exercises, delivered once a day for 30 days by email, build on one another and take five minutes or less to complete.

 

Related posts

Couple walking

Self-Care: Cherishing Yourself And Your Relationship

Ellie Lisitsa

These are ideas that can keep you and your relationship from being overwhelmed in daily life. ...

Read More

Do I Need to Heal Before I Date Again

The Truth about Boundaries

Nicole Schiener

Setting and maintaining boundaries protects your peace and so much more. ...

Read More

Permission to Come Home: Play as Medicine

Permission to Come Home: Play as Medicine

Jenny Wang

Can you allow yourself to introduce play as a healing practice? ...

Read More

Brene Brown Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart: Defensiveness and Flooding

The Gottman Institute

From her latest book, Brené discusses these core Gottman Method concepts ...

Read More

photo of couple arguing

‘It’s Not My Fault!’: Why Defensiveness is Damaging

Cheryl Fraser

Don’t get defensive. Do this instead. ...

Read More

Level 3 Training

Drs. John and Julie Gottman on How Not to Ruin Your Relationship

The Gottman Institute

Listen to the Gottmans discuss the big and small things you can do to have a happy relationship ...

Read More

Subscribe to Gottman Love Notes

Sign up and start your relationship transformation. Subscribe and get the latest on relationships, therapy, and much more from the experts. Includes a free download and access to special pricing on Gottman products every month