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The 3 Keys to Maintaining a Happy Relationship

Are you making more deposits of good feelings than you are withdrawals?

Source: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

1. It is better to be happy than right.

Sacrificing your (perceived) correctness for the sake of marital harmony and positive feelings is almost always better than standing on principle, or defending your position, pride or ego. As obvious as this is, it is amazing how many people stubbornly “dig in” and staunchly defend their viewpoint—which only escalates conflict rather than promoting understanding and accord. Simply put, it is often necessary to consider what is best for the relationship even if it's not what one wants personally (like proving that you're right). Unless the issue is of vital importance, promote harmony and let it go.

For example, if your partner says, "Remember we have dinner plans on Friday," and you are absolutely sure this is the first you're hearing about it, instead of getting into a "No, you didn't!"/"Yes, I did!" back and forth which will only lead to increasing discord, simply say something like, "OK, I guess I don't remember the plans; thanks for reminding me."

While we can't always "take the high road," the view we see when we do is usually a lot better.

2. Encourage closeness and warmth instead of distance and coldness.

Almost everything we say and do in any relationship will either encourage closeness and warm feelings or promote distance and coldness. This is directly related to the degree of acceptance or disapproval communicated by your words and deeds.

A useful analogy to illustrate this crucial concept is that of an emotional bank account. Every time we say or do something that has a negative impact on our partner or our relationship, it's like making a withdrawal of emotional currency from the marital “bank account.” And naturally, everything we say or do that has a positive impact is akin to making a deposit. Obviously, we want to build as much emotional capital as possible so that when inevitable “withdrawals” are made, the emotional account will always remain in the black.

Of course, not all positive and negative actions are equivalent to each other. A single instance of sexual infidelity or physical violence can bankrupt even a pretty flush relationship. Saying “please” and “thank you” 10 times won’t offset a single verbally hostile rant. Nevertheless, solid research indicates that the ratio should be at least 8 to 10 positives for every negative. (See the excellent work of Dr. John Gottman, as noted below.)

Common positives or “deposits” include messages of approval, gratitude, compliments, and agreement. Common negatives or “withdrawals” include criticizing, blaming, unessential contradicting or correcting, name calling, yelling, and the silent treatment—basically, anything that sends a message of disapproval.

Unless your objective is to push someone away, try not to say or do things that expresses disapproval unless it is vital—such as legitimate concerns about your partner's health habits or hygiene.

3. Remember that some tones can be more "deafening" than the loudest shout.

Spoken words ride on a wave of emotional content—and it is this emotional aspect of oral communication that we are most attuned to. Intonation and, of course, volume and intensity are central elements, and specifically, your tone is often more telling than your volume. Volume can be a function of passion, excitement, anger, or frustration, while your tone can mean only one thing—your degree of acceptance or disapproval.

Because some topics have a high likelihood of leading to unproductive, or even damaging, communication when discussed, sometimes it can be helpful to exchange ideas and concerns via texts or email rather than talking them out first. This way, the emotional content and tone of your communication won’t drown out the important information you’re trying to get across.

To sum it up:

  • It is (usually) better to be happy than right.
  • Make frequent deposits into your emotional bank account and be careful not to make too many withdrawals (or any large ones).
  • Pay close attention to your tone to be sure it’s not conveying any unnecessarily negative, emotional language or disapproval.
  • If you have “hot button” conflicts that need to be resolved, and talking them out has been unproductive, try texting or email.

For more, see my post, “5 Habits That Can Poison Any Relationship (and the Antidotes)

Also, Dr. John Gottman’s excellent The 7 Principals For Making Marriage Work is an essential read for both professionals and lay people alike.

Remember: Think well, Act well, Feel well, Be well!

Copyright Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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