The hallmark of every real relationship is the fight. The first fight, its issue, and whether or not the fledging relationship can survive it. If the argument gets too verbally brutal, or the subject is a deal-breaker, the relationship will end. But, as the relationship wears on, it is the fights that offer the most clues on whether the relationship will survive.
Famed Psychologist John Gottman, relationship king of the “Love Lab” (otherwise known as the Gottman Institute) can predict with 90% accuracy which relationships will fail and which will succeed by watching 3 minutes of a fight. Or sometimes, just an everyday conversation. He says that all relationships have patterns, sort of like a thumbprint. And, that by witnessing just a small portion of the relationship pattern, (the thumbprint, if you will) he can make a fairly accurate call on whether the relationship will survive.
According to Gottman, a successful relationship will have five positive emotions for every one negative. The most important indicators, according to Gottman, however, are what he calls “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”
The more frequently you or your partner exhibit these behaviors in a relationship, the worse your chances are:
– “It’s not my fault I’m always late.” If you or your partner won’t take responsibility for the problems, it’s going to be hard to solve them
– men tend to do this more often than women. It basically means shutting down, refusing to discuss a problem. In other words, the silent treatment.
“You’re selfish, you never pay the bills on time, you’re mean to old people.” This is basically telling your partner that you don’t like them.
And the worst,
. Gottman says, “any statement made from a higher level. A lot of the time it’s an insult: :You are a bitch. You’re scum.’ It’s trying to put that person on a lower plane than you, it’s hierarchical.”
The couples who do tend to make it for the long haul, tend to do more repair. They diffuse the situation with humor, they soften the argument with affection, and most importantly, they offer “credit” when a partner asks for it. When your sweetie says, “I’m getting better though, I only hit one street sign with your car last week.” The partner that says, “You’re right! That is better!” stands a much better chance for long-term survival than the partner that says, “one street sign is one street sign too many.”
According to a new book called Blink:The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, Gottman says people tend to view relationships two ways:
Positive Sentiment Override This is where positive sentiment overrides irritability. Gottman says, “it’s like a buffer. Their spouse will do something bad and they’ll say “Oh, he’s just in a crummy mood.”
Negative Sentiment Override According to Gottman, “a relatively neutral thing that a partner does gets perceived as negative. You don’t pick up the phone because you’re in the bathroom, and your partner thinks you’re purposefully avoiding them. In the negative sentiment override state, people draw lasting conclusions about each other. If their spouse does something positive, it’s a selfish person doing a positive thing. Gottman says, “For example, I’m talking with my wife and she says, ‘Will you shut up and let me finish?’ In positive sentiment override, I say, ‘Sorry, go ahead.’ I’m not very happy, but I recognize the repair. In negative sentiment override, I say ‘To hell with you, I’m not getting a chance to finish either. You’re such a bitch, you remind me of your mother.'”
Will your relationship last? Well, only time (or three minutes in Dr. Gottman’s Love Lab) will tell. However, whether you talk about every feeling that pops into your head or head to a spa for an emergency pedicure every time you have an argument, the key to success seems to be in genuine and mutual respect for your partner, and a desire to make the relationship permanent. Even when you’re mad. Really mad.