How to Strengthen Your Relationship
Looking to strengthen your relationship? In my couples counseling and online marriage counseling sessions, I often hear couples talk about times when they had so much fun with one another and felt incredibly connected…moments where problems felt smaller, and arguments were more manageable. Couples in these situations often wonder, “How did this happen?” but more importantly “How do we get that back? I want to have fun with my partner again; I’m so sick of arguing all the time!” If any of this feels remotely familiar to you, then you might want to take a look at your emotional bank account.
Now before we do that, let me backup and give you a little more information.
Strategies To Strengthen Your Relationship
The Research: Dr. John Gottman is one of the premier researchers in the field of evidence based marriage and family therapy. Through decades of research into what makes relationships work (and what ruins them) he’s found that it’s not enough to ONLY address conflict resolution; we also need to look at friendship and shared meaning in order to truly strengthen our partnerships.
Conflict resolution, friendship, and shared meaning: These three relational areas have a bi-directional influence on one another – meaning if we look at strategies to strengthen the friendship between you and your partner, we’re also likely to improve your ability to resolve conflict (and vice versa). You might wonder, why is that?
Well, let’s look at it this way — think of your very best friend (this might even be your partner); now think of a friend who you have an “ok but not terribly strong” relationship with. Which person do you think you’d be able to resolve conflict with more effectively?
Most likely, the individual you feel closer to and have a stronger friendship with — you have a greater baseline understanding of one another, there’s investment in that relationship, etc.
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Investing In Your Relationship
Why It Matters: Now here’s why this matters- you have a shared bank account with your partner (and no, I’m not talking about your actual checking account). What I’m talking about is your emotional bank account. This is a shared account between you and your partner. When you and your partner have positive interactions, you make deposits into this account. When you and your partner have negative interactions, you make withdrawals from the account. Like any bank account, the goal is to keep the balance high.
However, there is a curveball in this whole situation. The ratio of withdrawals to deposits is not even. We require five positive interactions (deposits) to outweigh one negative interaction (withdrawals).
This means it’s really important to stock up so you can handle withdrawals, without going into the negative. You might wonder, how do we stock up our account?
Double Down On The Positive in Your Relationship
What You Can Do About It: Well, let’s piece this all together! The reason I blather on about the importance of friendship and shared meaning in the relationship, is because we can foster these areas on a daily basis, thus making DEPOSITS AND MORE DEPOSITS.
So what is a “positive” interaction?
It can range from noticing your partner’s bids for connection, asking your partner about their day, a quick kiss, or even giving them a compliment. Take a moment to reflect on what might make your partner feel loved and supported on a daily basis and show this through your daily interactions.
Research indicates that small, positive, and consistent daily interactions are more effective in strengthening the relationship than the occasional grand gesture.
The key is to notice when your partner is investing in the relationship and to make an active effort to do the same.
So, if you maintain a high balance in your bank account (at least 5:1), you will be able to more effectively resolve conflict (your account will not go into the “negative” every time there’s an argument).
With all this being said, you should take the time to develop strategies to resolve conflict effectively, but don’t forget fostering fun and friendship within your relationship are just as important. And you can take that to the bank!
Rachel H., MA, LPC, LMFT
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