All relationships, whether you’re dating, engaged, or married, hit a rut at some point. Usually, this rut is made worse after kids are introduced to the equation because so much time and energy is put toward the kids, work, and managing the household, you have nothing left over to give to your partner. Unfortunately, when there is a lack of positive connection in a relationship, it leads quickly to bigger problems that are harder to navigate.
One of the biggest warning signs that your relationship might be in danger is if the general view you have of your partner starts to lean negative. During the honeymoon phase of a relationship your partner is the best person you have ever met, they can do no wrong. You gush about them to friends and family and make excuses for them if they do anything that could upset you. However, once the honeymoon phase is over, you start to see your partner for what they are, imperfect and human. If you still have a generally kind and respectful view of them this is alright. But once that perspective starts to shift to the negative and most of the things they do are attributed to a negative trait (i.e. they’re stupid, lazy, or mean), that’s when problems occur. This negative view leads to a lack of gratitude and appreciation, increased conflict, and eventually low relationship satisfaction or even divorce.
How can we figure out if your perspective of your partner is positive and healthy, leaning toward negative, or negative and unhealthy? There are a few ways to assess this and the status of your relationship. The Gottmans* spent a significant amount of time researching couples in their “Love Lab” and identifying patterns of communication and behavior that predicted separation or divorce. The exercises outlined below are influenced by a mix of their research with added information from my experience working with couples.
Steps to Assess Your Relationship
- List out 10 adjectives to describe your partner. Is it hard to think of 10 nice things to say about them? Did you immediately start thinking of their negative traits? Or was it easy to make the list and most of the items are positive? This simple exercise is an effective way to assess if your perspective of your partner is skewed more positive or negative. If it was hard for you to think of nice things to list or you listed more negative than positive things, this is a sign of a relationship in danger.
- Think of the number of positive interactions you have with your partner in a week and compare that to the number of negative interactions you have (any interaction can be positive or negative based on how you feel after.) Research shows that relationships that are base-level satisfactory have 5:1 positive to negative interactions and relationships that are highly satisfactory have 20:1 positive to negative interactions. Any ratio below the 5:1 is a sign of a relationship in danger.
- Even though arguments occur in all relationships, the ways that couples argue can vary greatly. Reflect on the recent arguments you have had with your partner. Was there a lot of blame, judgment, or defensiveness? Or were you able to maintain respect and express your perspective or feelings in a calm way? If there is disgust, hostility, swearing, name-calling, or insults used when you and your partner argue, this is a sign of a relationship in danger.
Hope for Your Relationship
The good news is that even if through these simple assessments you realize your relationship may be in danger, with a little energy, intentional interactions, and time, your relationship can be revitalized and possibly even better than it was during the honeymoon phase.
If you want help improving your relationship satisfaction and reigniting that spark, contact us today at Twin Cities Marriage & Family Therapy in Eden Prairie, Minnesota to get an appointment scheduled.