By Caralee Frederic, LCSW | Certified Gottman Therapist | Couples Workshop Presenter
Myths and Truths About Love
By Caralee Frederic, LCSW
Everyone has advice when it come to love. But studies have shown that much popular advice — such as “don’t to go to bed angry” — may be detrimental to a long, happy relationship. That’s why long-term research is so vital to ferret out the myths and truths of what makes a relationship successful.
Dr. John Gottman is renowned for his longitudinal research on relationship. For more than 40 years, his research examined couples’ interactions, the variables of divorce, and the constants in happy relationships.
This breakthrough research has been critical in my work with couples in distressed relationships. The relationship concepts formed by the research are based in comprehensive and extensive data, and not on ideas, philosophy or popular notions. The outcome? The information resonates with them and their confidence in trying new skills increases. The tools and skills they learn in session are easily applicable in their relationship, and change their daily interactions to being more connected and more effective.
Myth 1: Learning to communicate, such as “I hear you” and “let me restate what are saying,” will avert heated, all-out fights.
Truth: While active listening and calm, validating communication will help, research shows this approach is not enough. To truly deepen your love and to listen well to each other, a new mindset of looking for the positives in your partner, accepting their influence in decision making, and nurturing the couple friendship are needed to effectively manage conflict and reset the overall tone of the relationship.
In fact, the communication approach for “active and validating listening” was developed for therapists who work one-on-one with a client. It was not developed for therapists who work with couples, let alone for couples who are in a heated argument. Teaching couples how to “talk like a therapist” is not effective in conflict management.
Many couples also erroneously believe they should avoid conflict or even loud arguments. Gottman studies show that many long-lasting, happy relationship have both. The constant variable are valuing all emotions and respecting one another’s style of emotional expression. As long as the 4 Horsemen are absent – criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling — conflict, even loud ones, can help us learn important information about our partners and ourself.
Myth 2: Affairs are the major cause of divorce.
Truth: While affairs are devastating and create a lot of pain, many couples decide to repair and heal from relationship betrayals.
The California Divorce Mediation Project discovered that 80% of people who divorced say the spit was caused by growing distant and drifting apart. Only 20% to 27% say that cheating was partially to blame.
This indicates a failure of the couples’ foundation of friendship and intimacy, and this foundation is a prominent part of the Gottman Method Couples Therapy. In fact, nurturing and building or rebuilding the Frienship system is every bit as vital as conflict management.
Myth 3: Anger is toxic and destroys marriages.
Truth: Anger has not been shown to predict anything negative — nor positive — in relationships. In fact, in highly expressive cultures, or couples, anger is just another emotion that gets expressed along with excitement, sadness, and joy. Yes, as a matter of fact, you can go to bed angry, but partners must know the rules for coming back together again to discuss the conflict when they are calmer.
What does destroy relationships? One major element is having more negative interactions than positive interactions, both during conflict and in everyday moments. Gottman studies show that the “magic ratio” is 5 to 1 during conflict; 20:1 in every day interactions. This means that for every negative interaction, a stable and happy marriage builds in a rich environment of positive interactions to offset the negative.
Also, the presence of four relationship-destroying behaviors that have been identified by Dr. Gottman as “The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, destroy relationships. These patterns are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.
Don’t get too shocked at this list; even happy marriages slip into these behaviors at times. The key is to identify when they’re happening, to stop and replace them with more effective behaviors, and to make repairs to the damage done.
Contempt is the one behavior that cannot be tolerated and must be rooted out in order for relationships to thrive.
Myth 4: Having expectations that are too high about relationships is bad. We should lower our standards for our partner’s behavior to avoid disappointment and conflict.
Truth: This question of whether to lower standards to have a happier marriage has been disproven by over a decade of research. The study published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 1996 revealed that people who expect to be treated well in a relationship get treated well, while those who lower their expectations also get what they expect—less.
These findings correlate with the Gottman studies’ conclusion that couples need a better awareness of one another’s “bids,” which is when a partner attempts to connect. The data found that partners who respond positively to bids and who made bids in greater frequency were in a solid and loving relationship.
Nearly every couple I work with says they have “deal breakers” — the things they would never tolerate. However, the reality is that once you’ve built a life together, have children, and a develop a shared history together, the so-called deal breaker often becomes negotiable. Nevertheless, coping with a distressed relationship is painful. Often, the mythical advice from friends and even some therapists can hurt the relationship.
By understanding the research about relationships, you will discover the tools to elevate your love to a better, healthier place.