“If only I had known …. .”
That is often the sentiment of divorced couples or couples in distressed relationships. As a marriage therapist and counselor for nearly 20 years, I’ve talked with couples who expressed how they wish they could have done things differently.
The “If onlys” of couples dealing with divorce often include:
• If only I had not used humor at the expense of my partner.
• If only I had not interrupted or tried to dominate my partner.
• If only we had not developed our own parallel lives.
• If only I had touched my partner affectionately more often.
• If only I had not allowed growing feelings of indifference toward my partner.
• If only I had not tuned out my partner.
Many years ago, the famed Gottman Institute embarked on science-based journey to learn, record and tabulate all those “If onlys.”
Gottman researchers studied thousands of couples – those who were unhappy and those who were happy, some for more than 20 years – to learn what behaviors enhance or harm relationships.
In addition to the “If onlys” described above, Gottman researchers learned that happy couples shared these commonalities:
• Partners expressed interest in each other’s world.
• Partners were gentle during moments of conflict.
• Partners took responsibility for mistakes and tried to repair negative interactions.
• Partners shared a deep, strong friendship.
The Gottman findings are similar to the situations I encounter through my work as a couples therapist: seemingly minor behaviors are indicators of a relationship’s trajectory.
However, couples who learn new behaviors can elevate the direction of their relationship and successfully avoid the “If onlys” in their lives.