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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Are you due a Relationship MOT?

I like the idea of harnessing routine in a relationship, the power of making small regular deposits into the relationship ‘bank account’ that over time serve to build a strong foundation: when I say goodbye to my clients at a final session I often suggest they choose a future date in their diary to review what progress they’ve made and stay aware of any small issues that threaten to grow.

So making a yearly date to sit down  to look at your relationship makes sense: often we’re so caught up with work, kids, family, friends that focussing on where our relationship is just doesn’t get a look in. Looking back on an average year for me I could assure you that enough will have happened that’s been completely out of my control that a bit of time out to thrash things out and make sense of things with my partner is usually long overdue.

If you’re single you could do this with a good friend, and return the favour, or of course make use of an experienced and qualified relationship counsellor (try www.counselling-directory.org.uk “.. a comprehensive database of UK counsellors and psychotherapists, with information on their training and experience, fees and contact details.”)

Some questions to ask might be:

What’s important to me in this relationship?

Is this being honoured at present?

Am I being the person I want to be currently in this relationship? If not, why?

If I am, what could I do more of?

What would my partner like less / more of?

Can we talk openly and honestly, even when the subject is sensitive?

How is our sex life?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the idea of a relationship MOT .. message me below or get in touch on Twitter or email me.

Taking Stock

I wanted to share with you a great habit that I was taught to carry out at the turn of the year, and which has served me well .. which is reflecting on what happened in the past year and how I handled it.

I love the quiet time in between Christmas and New Year and I made a commitment to myself a while ago to take this time for myself, for quiet enjoyment of the season, the weather, and taking a look back over the past twelve months.

Life has a habit of throwing the unexpected in our way, however well we plot and plan our lives, and often I’ll be surprised at the things that happened that I could never have predicted the year before. Sometimes these are wonderful and sometimes less so: in examining how I responded I find clues to who I am and how I’m showing up in my life and others’

So maybe you’d like to join me. Carve out a little space for yourself in the next few days to ask these questions:

What happened in this past year that I could never have predicted?

How did I respond? Was that helpful to me and those around me?

Who was important to me in the past year?

What one thing would I have liked to be different?

What would I like to do differently in this coming year?

I’d love to hear your thoughts .. do you have any other questions you’ve found useful?

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Merry Christmas to you!!

Thank you for being part of this year’s Relationships Advent Calendar, I hope you’ve had as much fun joining in the fun as I’ve had creating it ..

I’ve been inspired along the way by the penguins at noomi, whose Kindness Advent Calendar I follow every year, so check that out too.

And today of course is a day for family so I’m off to spend a peaceful day with mine .. wishing you a love-filled day close to your special ones, whoever they are ..

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 23 . Make an Inventory

So as we know from the kids’ nativity Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for the census .. and today I’d like you to start a mental tally chart of the good things in your life, and how many are possible because of the love and support of your partner.

Keep adding whenever you think of one and watch that list grow .. find a beautiful notebook and start a gratitude journal if that’s how you roll .. notice how it feels good to know you’re not dependent or independent of each other .. but inter-dependent, two people who support and appreciate each other.

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Relationships Advent Calendar Day 20 . Switch on your Relationship Radar

You’ve just spent 19 days doing something every day for the benefit of your relationship .. notice a difference yet?

So now you’re a super honed relationship athlete in tip top condition it’s time to start looking for opportunities to flex those muscles ..

Keep your eyes and ears open for the many small opportunities that come up today to make a difference, and see how many you take .. send me your scores by commenting on this post, or on Twitter or Facebook if you prefer .. a relationship Christmas star for the winner!

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 17 . Share Something New

After a while together it’s easy to assume your honey knows everything about you, but stop a minute and think about that .. in reality you go out and learn new stuff about yourself every day, you’re constantly changing and growing and there’s no way your partner could keep up with all those new bits of you ..

So share something your honey doesn’t know about you today .. a new favourite food, or maybe somewhere you’d REALLY like to be kissed (behind your ears, between the sheets or maybe in public?) 😉

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