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When to Seek Relationship Help

 

Making the decision to seek relationship help can be wrought with fear, insecurities, and even embarrassment. It’s difficult for most people to ask for help, but it can be even more complicated when the struggle is with personal and intimate relationships. There are two people involved in the decision-making process and often couples have the false belief that if they are to make it as a couple, they should be able to manage their relationship on their own.

For over 30 years, relationship expert Dr. John Gottman has gathered research on over 3,000 couples.  He found four common signs can predict relationship demise. He refers to these as the Four Horseman: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Although these four signs can lead to the dissolution of a relationship, even the healthiest of couples may occasionally engage in the Four Horseman.

The difference between what Dr. Gottman refers to as the “masters”- healthy couples vs. the “disasters” – unhealthy couples, is that those who have healthy relationships make and accept repair attempts by their partners.  Stable couples also were found to partake in more positive feelings and actions toward their partner.  The research gathered by Dr. Gottman and his colleagues found that the ratio of these positive to negative acts and feelings for healthy couples is 5:1.

Research indicates that couples often wait too long before seeking help for their relationship struggles. The average couple waits six years before they reach out for help. SIX YEARS! So how do you and your partner know when the time is right to seek help?

 

  1. Lack of connection or feelings of loneliness– From time to time it is not abnormal to feel a bit of a disconnect as relationships ebb and flow. However, if you are often feeling a general lack of connection to your partner and experiencing feelings of loneliness, it may be time to focus more on your relationship. Learning how to build fondness and admiration for one another and create rituals of connection will enhance the relationship you have with your partner in a positive way.
  2. Life transitions that bring about excessive stress – There are many different life transitions couples may go through that are a large source of stress. From having a baby, to career changes, financial struggles, moving homes, loss of a loved one, and empty nesting to name a few. These different life phases can bring about various stressors in your relationship. Your roles may be challenged, and different wants and needs compromised along the way. Parenting brings along its own set of challenges with the ever-changing phases of your children’s lives. Studies show that 67% of couples experience decreased satisfaction in their relationship in the first three years of their baby’s life. We see this trend again in relationships when children become teenagers.
  3. Trust issues– Trust and commitment are the foundation to a successful relationship.  If you or your partner are feeling that you are lacking in these areas and you find that jealousy or fear are common feelings experienced, it may be time to give your relationship a tune up.
  4. Constant conflict – Most people feel that if they could communicate better or talk through all their issues, their relationship would be more satisfying. This is a myth.  A successful relationship is more about the process of how we argue and if repair attempts are made, identified, and accepted by each partner.  69% of problems in relationships are perpetual problems.  This means that only 31% of the problems encountered in a relationship can be solved.  Conflict is a normal part of every relationship, however if you are left feeling misunderstood, defeated, down, and hopeless due to your conflict, it may be time to talk with someone to learn how to practice repair and effectively communicate feelings in a healthy way.
  5. Keeping secrets – Keeping secrets is a quick way to cause deterioration of a relationship.  Feeling safe to share with one another and being honest is what builds trust in a relationship.  If you find that you are fearful to open up to your partner, this is a sign that your relationship may not be stable.
  6. Considering an affair – This is a red flag that seems all too obvious. However, often there were previous signs that indicated issues well before this consideration took place. Feeling misunderstood by your partner and struggling to communicate these feelings effectively can at times lead people to seek out getting their needs met in other ways. Although relationships can survive emotional, sexual, and financial infidelities, it is always best to deal with these issues before they happen.
  7. Feelings of negativity – Feeling that your partner or your overall interactions with your partner are shaped by negativity can be a difficult space to live in. Stable relationships have on average a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions during conflict compared to unstable relationships with an average ratio of 0.8:1.  It is important to understand why there is a need for much more positive interactions to keep relationships in a healthy place.  When we experience negativity – criticism, conflict, etcetera, it is in our nature as human beings to dwell on the negative feelings that accompany this experience.  It is important to manage feelings of negativity early in a relationship before it leads to the couple experiencing Negative Sentiment Override (NSO).  NSO occurs when a couple experiences patterns of trust that have been broken in several areas and therefore negative attitudes develop as a result.  This is often where couples begin to make assumptions about their partner and will more frequently respond based on these negative assumptions.   The positive feelings once held between two partners fade while negative feelings emerge.  To learn more about Negative Sentiment Override and to find out if you are experiencing NSO in your relationship, click here and take the quiz http://www.gottman.com/blog/quiz-negative-sentiment-override/

Knowing when to seek help can be crucial to a relationship.  More couples need to take the approach of seeking help to enhance one’s relationship rather than to fix it.  Relationships are difficult.  Being more proactive rather than reactive can be the difference between a declining relationship and one that thrives.

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