Relationships – depending upon the quality of them, they can either be nourishing and fulfilling, or totally draining. Whether it be with a partner, sibling, parent, friend or colleague, strengthening a relationship is imperative to its survival and growth – and there’s always room for improvement!

If you’ve been stuck in an unhealthy relationship for a while, it’s easy to submit to being “stuck”, but we’re here to tell you that patterns can shift, and making those small everyday changes can actually have a big long term outcome.

So how do you improve your relationship? Here are our tips on what to consider.

What is the Gottman method?

Established by John Gottman, a Professor of the University of Washington, the Gottman method was developed against collective research of mathematical models, scales, and formulas. Gottman dedicated 40 years of research to identifying the elements of stability in relationships and identified patterns that led to divorce. He found that these patterns largely fell into one of four categories:

  1. Criticism of a partner’s personality
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Stonewalling
  4. Contempt

The end goal of the Gottman method includes increasing closeness and friendship, addressing conflict in a productive way, and building shared meaning. While this method was developed for couples, the principles are useful in any relationship.

What role do you fall into?

Before you start analysing your relationship, it can first be useful to gain an understanding of your own role in relationships. Often, we run into trouble when one person takes on a “parent” role, and the other a “child”. Where one person is in a position of superiority and even acting as a disciplinarian, the other may be passive-aggressive and feel victimised. Understandably, this type of behaviour can easily lead to a downward spiral where one person triggers the other and a painful and repetitive cycle can quickly come into play. Here are some of the behaviours that we often see in this dynamic:

  • Childish or submissive vs parental or dominant
  • Passive and dependent vs driven and compulsive
  • Defensive and angry vs rigid and righteous
  • Irrational vs overly rational/moralistic

Those experiencing these tendencies often believe that the only solution is to end the relationship, however the problem with that approach is that it fails to address the underlying personal problems present in both partners. It also means that we are likely to go back to these familiar behaviours in future relationships. Changing behavioural patterns can seem challenging, but by simply recognising our habits, actively challenging them, and becoming vulnerable, we are much more open to achieving the closeness we expect from a relationship.

What should I do to improve my relationship?

The Gottman method outlines seven principles that we can follow to improve relationships. These include:

  1. Build love maps: this involves a consideration of our partner’s worlds. Think about what day-to-day life is like for them, what their values, hopes and anxieties are.
  2. Express fondness and admiration: those who are in fulfilling relationships are able to gain an appreciation for their partner’s behaviour and learn to live with differences.
  3. Turn toward one another: having conversational patterns of interest and respect, even about seemingly mundane matters.
  4. Accept influence: this is about taking your partner’s preferences into account and being willing to compromise and adapt. This helps keep a healthy balance of power.
  5. Solve problems that are solvable: this involves five tactics – softening at the beginning of a conversation to lead to a satisfactory resolution, offering and responding to solutions or behaviours that maintain emotional connection (e.g. we/us language), soothing yourself and your partner, the use of compromise and negotiation, being tolerant and keeping the focus on the wellbeing of the relationship.
  6. Manage conflict and overcome gridlock: it’s not about “solving” conflict, but rather managing it – conflict is considered inherent in a relationship.
  7. Create shared meaning: connection and enrichment in relationships happens when each person experiences the ways in which their partner enriches their life.

A few day-to-day ways you can implement these strategies would be:

  • Ensuring spending time alone together is a priority
  • Celebrate the wins and good times together
  • Sharing the load
  • Make time for just yourself and encourage your partner to do the same
  • Take responsibility for your actions and feelings
  • Talk about your days and the things that excite you

Working on a relationship can be both an individual and a dual process – and as such, it can be addressed with both individual and couples counselling. Are you ready to seek relationship advice or to work on your role within relationships? Reach out to our team of compassionate psychologists and discover the ways we can work together.

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