5 Principles to a Stronger Relationship

Thanks to David at Select Psychology in Tynemouth who asked me to write a short piece for their website for Valentine’s Day. I thought it was the least I could do in recognition of all the fresly brewed coffee and teapigs green tea he lets me drink there!

I’ve seen many couples for relationship therapy over the years: some have managed to part with a better understanding of why they found it so difficult to sustain a loving relationship, while many leave grateful for the opportunity to deepen their relationship and move to the next level of togetherness as a result of facing difficulties.

I’m a Relate trained therapist, and also a big fan of the Gottman Institute’s work in researching thousands of real couples since the 1970s (https://www.gottman.com/about/research/) as I believe it’s important to base therapy on a sound evidence base. I’m a bit of a relationship geek and actually enjoy reading research papers!

Four of the principles from the Gottmans’ work that I find myself using all the time are included in their book ‘The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work’ and their ‘Sound Relationship House’, both of which can be easily found online.

69% of conflicts go unresolved: not every disagreement has to be worked through and many successful couples never address 69% of these. Make it a rule to consciously choose which conflicts are worth working on together and which are not important.

5:1 ratio: often when couples come to see me they’ve become frustrated because in trying to improve the relationship they’ve got to a point where every interaction is negative. This is an easy trap to fall into because humans naturally focus on problem solving, but research shos that every negative or problem solving statement needs to be balanced by at least five positive ones. I think of it like vaccinating your relationship in advance of the bugs of life!

Love Maps: often when we date we stay up all night talking and finding out about our partner, but when things become more familiar we forget our partner is changing all the time. Making time to find out how their day went, whether their favourite colour has changed, where they would love to go on holiday helps to build a shared foundation for togetherness.

Turning Towards, not against or away: when conflict calls there are two really unhelpful ways to manage things, you can fight, or you can run away. The only successful way of managing differences of perspective in a relationship is to turn towards each other in calm moments and find ways to speak and hear each other respectfully and with empathy.

In addition to these, in ‘Romancing the Shadow: A Guide to Soul Work for a Vital, Authentic Life’ Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf write about the relationship as being the ‘third body’ that needs to be nourished. I prefer to think of a relationship as a garden that grows between two people. If one (or both) parties neglects the garden then weeds and pests will quickly invade the space and take over, but if both people make space and time to cultivate their shared garden it will flourish and grow as they would wish.

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Armele Philpotts is a relationship and family therapist working at Relate and privately in the North East of England. She is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Association for Family Therapy

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 9 . Write it down

Words mean a lot to some people and less to others. If words are important to your love why not write your sweetie a note to let them know how you feel .. or if you have writer’s block pop into a card shop and find the perfect message

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 8 . Be Happy

Have you ever tried walking round smiling all day? Smiling at strangers? As well as people thinking you’re slightly unhinged I’m sure others will have smiled back, because smiling is infectious!!

So when you see your baby tonight SMILE :-)))))))))) and see them catch it off you ..

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 7 . Surprise Surprise

It’s good to be shifted out of our routines .. when you first met you’ll have talked and laughed and tried new things together, but once the relationship matures it’s easy to do the same things day to day. Research shows doing new things stimulates affection and encourages communication.

So surprise your sweetie today .. with breakfast in bed, do a chore for them, a surprise gift, a special night out/in ..

Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 6 . Tell All

The number one thing couples ask for when I meet them for the first time is improved communication. What they often mean is how to disagree in a more graceful way, but also when a relationship goes wrong what is missing is a sense of appreciation for each other.

So get into good habits .. Tell your beloved what they did to make you happy today.

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 5 . Get physical ..

Touch is sooo important in feeling connected, holding hands, being close, a hug .. and all too often I hear couples saying they don’t touch in affectionate ways any more because one of them is nervous it might be seen as a bid for sex.

Treat your sweetie to a shoulder rub today, and if this is an issue for your couple make it clear in advance that a shoulder rub MEANS just that, nothing more.

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 4 . Get texting

Maybe you text your sweetie all the time, but how many of those messages are about your relationship, especially if you’re managing a family together. Using all the opportunities to communicate your love is vital in order to stay connected in the face of multiple responsibilities.

Text your sweetie you miss them today, even if it’s just from the shed!

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