What Makes an Unhappy Relationship


The Seven "Bad Habits" of Unsuccessful Marriages: (The Gottman Institute)


1 A high ratio of negative to positive inputs.
Where there is more than 1 negative to every 5 positive inputs, the marriage will be unstable. A couple is headed for divorce if the ratio sinks to 1 1/2 negatives to each positive input. The idea is not to eliminate all negatives, but to learn how to keep the ratio strongly positive. For example, complaints, while negative, are the means of pointing out our problems. When a complaint can be dealt with positively, it improves the "field" of the relationship.

2 Ignoring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling) and gender differences in these. Females are more apt to criticize, males to stonewall or refuse to participate. Developing awareness of the impact of these discounting actions and learning a process for handling differences without resorting to them is an important step toward harmony.


3 Failing to repair the relationship after a fight or disagreement.
Fights and disagreements are inevitable in marriage. It is critical for couples to learn a process, not to avoid fights altogether, but to mend hurt feelings afterwards so that the relationship can remain close and rewarding-not become distant. The ideal is to get so good at this process that they are able to repair while fighting.


4 Negativity in the 'field' that is part of every interaction -- words, tones and non-verbals (expressions, attitudes)--that are perceived as discounts. These register, are stored, and influence future transactions. It is important to learn one's 'invisible' language that has such an influence on how one is perceived.


5 Flooding--being swept away, overwhelmed by negative emotions and into extreme statements that lead to distancing and isolation. It is important to learn self-soothing practices to use when the going gets too hot to handle.


6 Chronic, diffuse physiological arousal--hair trigger anger and negativity. When the 'field' of the relationship is tense and one is often feeling defensive, it is essential to have processes that allow one to air the problems and reduce the tension.


7 The failure of men to accept influence from their wives. This shows up in one of two patterns: (a) male emotional disengagement (this eventually becomes mutual emotional disengagement), or (b) Male escalation belligerence, contempt, defensiveness) in response to their wife's complaining.

The most common reason given for divorce (California Divorce Mediation Project): 80% of both men and women said it was the gradual growing apart and losing a sense of closeness, and not feeling loved and appreciated. This underscores the importance of learning the skills of positive interaction so that one is in the best position to make the most of the many opportunities for rewarding interactions present in nearly every marriage.

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