Top 3 Tips For a Happy & Healthy Relationship: What We Have Learned From Research - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 10, 2014

Top 3 Tips For a Happy & Healthy Relationship: What We Have Learned From Research

Dr. John Gottman has been studying relationships for a long time wanting to know why some relationships can be like ticking time bombs ending in divorce or chronic unhappiness, while other relationships work well, are satisfying, and remain stable over a long period of time. While social scientists usually do not have a good track record predicting individual behavior, it turns out that predicting relationship behavior isn’t difficult if you know what to look for. Dr. Gottman’s best prediction rate of which couples will get divorced is 94%.

Gottman’s research began in 1972, continues today, and so far has involved over 3,000 couples in 12 different studies – 7 of which were prediction studies – helping him identify specific behavior patterns in couples he later termed the “Masters” and “Disasters” of relationships. However, it wasn’t until he teamed with his psychologist wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman some 15 years ago, that methods were developed to prevent relationship meltdown.

What have we learned from the Gottmans about what works and doesn’t work in relationships? The key findings really boil down to the following: treating your partner like a good friend, handling conflicts in gentle and positive ways, and being able to repair conflicts and negative interactions. How partners treat each other when not fighting is actually predictive of the couple’s ability to manage conflict and repair arguments and negativity. Consider the following tips to strengthen your friendship with your partner:

1. Express interest in learning what is happening in your partner’s world. Ask questions that show you are interested in your partner’s day-to-day life.  We sometimes forget to check in with our partner or fail to respond to our partner’s attempt to connect; over time this can create serious damage to the relationship. It can be as simple as asking “How was your day?” The Masters responded to their partner’s attempts to initiate conversation or connect in some way 86% of the time. The Disasters only responded to these bids 33% of the time. Even deep levels of connection happen when asking about your partner’s internal world of thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, etc.

2. Be gentle in conflict, avoiding criticism or blame, instead, focusing on your needs. For example, instead of saying “You never help around the house”, focus on what you do need stating “The house needs cleaning and I would really like some help. Avoid statements of “You never…” or “You always…”  A core research finding is that the Masters stayed positive in conflict, listening to their partners without criticizing, becoming defensive, shutting down, or acting superior. Instead, the Masters handled conflict with qualities like mutual respect, humor, interest, openness, the ability to be influenced and acknowledge the partner’s ideas or feelings. Literally, these positive responses consistently were found to be at a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative, as opposed to the Disasters who had a positive to negative ratio of 0.8:1.

3. Repair negative interactions and conflicts, acknowledging your part in the difficulty. It can be difficult to admit being wrong or making a mistake, but John Gottman holds repair as one of the most important relationship skills. We can’t always avoid conflict, we are not perfect, so when couples make mistakes, hurt one another, or have fights, and it is essentially to have ways to repair the relationship. Out of conflict, intimacy can occur actually bringing couples closer together aiming for that 5:1 ratio of positivity as opposed to patterns of criticism, blame, or defensiveness. The ability for couples to repair is directly related to the strength of their friendship identified in Tip #1 above. Distressed couples have as many repair attempts as happy couples, it is just that these repair attempts tend not to work because these partners don’t feel close, accepted, or safe enough.

Share with your partner these research-based tips for relationships and try implementing these approaches, thinking of your relationship as a work in progress. More tips and information on Dr. Gottman’s research on relationships can be found in his best-seller, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

About the author

Dr. Robert Navarra

Dr. Navarra is a Certified Gottman Therapist and Consultant, offering Gottman Couples Workshops, Level 1 and Level 2 Gottman Method Training Workshops. He recently co-authored a chapter with John Gottman titled Gottman Method Therapy: From Theory to Practice, in Case Studies in Couple Therapy: Theory-Based Approaches (Carson & Casado-Kehoe, Eds., 2011).

Dr. Navarra is a Research Scientist at the Relationship Research Institute (Founder and Executive Director, John Gottman) where he and Dr. Gottman are currently collaborating on research, designing a randomized clinical trial integrating Dr. Navarra’s relational model of addiction treatment within the Gottman Method Therapy theory and framework. Additionally, he is Research Associate at Mental Research Institute and Co-founder of the Center for Couples in Recovery at MRI where he developed the Couples Recovery Development Approach, a relational approach to addiction treatment. He has presented his original research at conferences for AAMFT, CAMFT, and the Gottman Institute.

To know more about Dr. Navarra, visit his website,