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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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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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 24 . Find Your Airlock

Most people are going to be slap bang in the middle of the last day of holiday preparation today .. last minute cards to drop off, ticking items off your to do list, some of you will still be at work .. and it’s tricky to move instantly from that ‘doing’ state of mind to the ‘being’ and ‘feeling’ one we value more at home .. so today take 5 minutes to work out what helps you make that transition .. maybe for you that’s a shower when you get home, a run, a 10 minute sit down with a cup of something calming after the kids are in bed, a minute of mindfully breathing or a 5 minute stretch ..

One Mindful Minute
* To prepare breathe normally while counting your breaths for one minute.
* Once you know how many breaths you take in a minute sit somewhere comfortable where you won’t be disturbed.
* Close your eyes
* Concentrate on the breath entering and exiting your body while counting each breath
* When you reach the number of breaths you usually take in a minute, open your eyes, come back into the room and give thanks for this moment of peace

When you’ve found your ‘airlock’ don’t forget your sweetie .. instead of passing them the baby as soon as they walk in the door because you’re tired (and covered in dried baby rice) give them the gift of a big kiss, and some time of their own to decompress ..

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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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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 16 . High 5 Your Sweetie

Sometimes it’s tempting to take the good things for granted and only focus on the things your honey does wrong .. they know you love them right??

Wrong .. research shows that to feel positive in their relationship couples need an average ratio of five positive for every one negative interaction .. that means in order for your relationship to thrive you need to get working on those positives .. so notice your partner’s successes, and those of the two of you, and take time to celebrate them today ..

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 13 . Write it Out

Nothing is more meaningful than when we take the time to write something out .. so today write your sweetie exactly how you feel and put it somewhere they’ll find it later .. in the fridge, stuck to their toothbrush or maybe on the remote!

Get creative, and spread the love ..

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Relationships Advent Calendar . Day 12 . Share a 6 Second Kiss

Take just six seconds today to share a kiss or a hug with your sweetie today .. and consider doing this every day .. 6 seconds that will bring you closer and help to grow your love are highlighted by the Gottman Institute as something that can increase closeness and make you more mindful of your honey

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