More Than Chemistry

What makes relationships tick.

It’s a New Year…Time to Assess Your Relationship

Is There Room for Improvement or Is It Time to Breakup?

As we start 2014, it is important to assess our relationships. Intimate partners impact our well being in a tremendous way. It’s essential that these relations are healthy and satisfying. In this article, I describe ways to improve an existing partnership or decide whether it’s time to move on.

John Gottman, a famous couples researcher, found that happy partners have an 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. Those with more than 20% negative exchanges are bound for breakup. For example, in analyzing partner interactions, Gottman would watch for cues such as eye rolling, interrupting, and giving the silent treatment as key indicators that a relationship is bound to fail. Although it is difficult to assess in your own relationship in terms of the 80/20 rule, one way to examine the overall quality is to keep a daily diary. You can implement a rating system to indicate how well the day went, assigning a number out of 10 with comments to contextualize the score. After each week, reflect on your notes to identify problem areas.

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Once you’ve identified things in need of change, document your progress. If you’ve noticed a pattern of destructive communication, tell your partner about your intention to change how you talk to each other, and make a conscious effort to follow through. If you want more affection in your relationship, be more affectionate. If you need more excitement, spice it up with some new activities. In other words, be the change you want to see (as Ghandi said). Hopefully your partner will follow suit and reciprocate your efforts. Although a happy relationship takes work from both people, one person can at least get the ball rolling.

There are a number of books written by professionals with advanced degrees in psychology and related fields that will guide you through the process of relationship improvement. If your relationship is suffering from abundant or deep wounds, the help of a professional may be needed. In that case, locate a good therapist in your area and get the help you need. You can also use the therapist locator links at the end of this piece to find a licensed professional with an appropriate counseling degree.

If a single partner initiates the change, both partners must eventually be on board for the relationship to work. When people ask what the secret is to a relationship that lasts forever, my response is, “dedication from both partners to make it work, no matter what.” This means that one person can carry the relationship for only a certain amount of time – after that, the burden on their health and well-being is too great and relationship dissolution is likely the next best outcome.

 

The decision to breakup is often difficult. If you have tried the relationship diary and/or therapy, you will have a more clear understanding of whether it is time to end the partnership. When children are involved, the decision can be complicated. Research shows that children do worse living with both parents if the relationship is characterized by conflict than they do living in a happy, single-parent home. Although the initial separation will be hard on the family, with time, children are likely to adjust, particularly if they have parents who put the child’s needs first and keep conflict to a minimum. The greatest problems emerge when parents separate but continue to engage in dispute.

The good news is that relationships can become better with motivation and effort. Or, for those who are destined to breakup, a new and better life awaits. Take time to heal from the loss, and dedicate yourself to discovering the new you. We grow and change every year and it’s important to assess our current values, likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams. A commitment to work on oneself can open doors never imagined. Many will find love again – a respectful, more satisfying love – don’t settle for anything less! Other people will happily remain single and deepen relationships with family, friends, and/or God.

 

For 2014, commit to leading a more satisfying life and start with an assessment of your closest relationships. When the New Year of 2015 rolls around, you want to feel proud of your progress and living the life you deserve.

Therapist locators:

http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/ (scroll to TherapistLocator.net)

http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_search.php

Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at California State University, San Bernardino.

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