There are many theories and models available to inform us what makes a good marriage. Many talk about trust, honesty, faithfulness and effective communication skills. All of these factors are relevant and are essential elements of a good relationship. Any relationship is hard work and that work doesn’t get easier as time goes on but it is work that needs to happen. As a therapist who does much couples therapy, I have found that each couple is clearly different in their views of wheat makes them a viable couple and how they maintain that. This is clear as we are all different and what works for one person or relationship might not work for another. In fact, each relationship we find ourselves in carries a different dynamic to navigate and that can be difficult.
So the secrets of success in a relationship and what makes two people compatible over the long-term are complicated and complex. The same approach will work in one and not another. However, in my experience, I have identified two factors that I believe are an essential part of any relationship and without them, some of the other factors mentioned above become less important. Let’s look at these individually:
Conflict Management: This is a subject I have written about very often and I cannot stress enough how important it is to be able to deal with conflict effectively. Without this, all good work done to that point is wasted. Conflict in a relationship is inevitable. In itself, conflict is not a problem; how it is handled, however, can bring people together or tear them apart. Poor communication skills, disagreements and misunderstandings can be a source of anger and distance, or a springboard to a stronger relationship and happier future. I have seen couples who are generally “ok” and then plunge into crisis because of the inability to manage conflict. Please follow the links below for more information on handling conflict:
Positive Interaction: The Love Bank: The idea of a Love Bank or Emotional Bank Account has been used by couples therapists and self-help authors for a long time. A simple idea that nobody uses effectively. The concept is to build up positive deposits on a daily basis so that when withdrawals are made, your relationship is not “bankrupt”. John Gottman, renowned couples therapist, tells us that for marriages to be good they need at least a 5:1 positive to negative ratio. This means you need five deposits for every one withdrawal. This is of course a baseline idea. Not all deposits and withdrawals are equal. Buying your spouse a flower is a different level deposit than buying them a car. Accidentally breaking their favourite cup is a different level withdrawal than being unfaithful. Making a positive deposit, also requires knowledge of your partner’s emotional needs. Without this, the deposit is diminished somewhat. Many couples with a “high” deposit in the Love Bank find dealing with conflict and other stressors easier. Often as a therapist, I find that couples in trouble have “low” deposits and have neglected the work needed to make the marriage successful. Often the individuals have been concentrating on “addictive” type activities bringing instant gratification.
Dr Willard Harley explains the Love Bank as follows:
Within each of us is a Love Bank that keeps track of the way each person treats us. Everyone we know has an account and the things they do either deposit or withdraw love units from their accounts. It’s your emotions’ way of encouraging you to be with those who make you happy. When you associate someone with good feelings, deposits are made into that person’s account in your Love Bank. And when the Love Bank reaches a certain level of deposits (the romantic love threshold), the feeling of love is triggered.