For most people a romantic relationship is the very center of their lives. It provides deep personal fulfilment, feeling of contentment and an overall sense of satisfaction in one’s very existence.
A trusting and positive relationship elicits psychological wellness, as well as other significant intimate interactions such as friendship, which enriches the individuals’ lives with love, support,
encouragement and understanding.
According to research, most married couples expect their marriage to last a lifetime.
In contrast, getting married does not always equate to being in a healthy and mutually gratifying relationship. Besides commitment, marriage is a lifelong training for both partners in learning how to integrate themselves into each other’s lives. This process doesn’t necessarily come naturally and its implications are often underestimated. In order to protect their rapport from adverse dynamics, partners require a conscious effort in enhancing their self-awareness and pursuing personal growth.
It is perfectly normal for couples to undergo a temporary crisis or state of persistent strain, however the extent of their inability to use emotional intelligence to guide their thought process often could be dysfunctional towards conflict resolution. Fulfilment may be out of reach when a partner lacks the ability to regulate and harness their own emotions and apply them to problem solving.
As a result, they fail to adopt functional behavior to address their relationship problems, tackle difficulties and work through the fundamental issues that everyday life presents.
Quite often, discrediting attitudes which undermine personal affirmations, in combination with the inability to manage anger and consistent criticism may significantly compromise the relationship leading to progressive disengagement.
To prevent separation, it is crucial to establish which aspects would enhance a gratifying partnership, reinforce stability and ennoble the relationship. It is also essential to highlight factors that may threaten the relationship especially during disagreement.
Despite any kind of resentment, frustration or sorrow during turbulent times, partners who emphatically listen to their companions and genuinely attempt to find out exactly what they are feeling, have a greater chance to re-shape their relationship and stay connected.
Over the long-term in contrast, those whose attitudes are based on a permanent negative approach to the argument would have much less of a chance: their criticisms and cynicism are often directed towards the partner who may react by withdrawing from the discussion or escalating to anger and resentment and finally resigning to bitterness.
Research confirms that a partner’s inability to cope with anger, impulsiveness and repetitive destructive behaviors often damages the marriage beyond repair exacerbated individuality, inclinations to judge or shift blame may undermine the closeness of the couple and impair their original purpose and meaning of the relationship, leading to fractures in the marriage and sometimes to its end.
Research shows that successful partners are more skilled in empathizing when dealing with adversities and crises in their relationship. Compared to those who are less skilled in empathizing, they are more likely to regard their partners with more respect, dignity and kindness. They are more perceptive in understanding the body language of their spouse; they clearly understand the perception they create with their words and own behaviours towards others and they know how to deal with the concerns of their partners.
They value their partner’s feelings, they are attentive to their concerns, they are interested in their motivations. These emotional skills allow them to better understand their spouses’ point of views together with their uncertainties and needs.
In addition, partners who are more skilled in empathizing are more inclined to discuss openly with each other about their feelings and share genuinely about their doubts and reservations even if they are reticent.
Influential studies in this field have demonstrated that partners in successful couples do not cease to generate positive affirmations while arguing: rather than discredit their partners they endorse a clear mindset regarding attitudes of mutually affirming behaviors.
Although they fight a lot, when dealing with substantial disagreements, they continue to respect each other, emphasizing their interpersonal struggle. They continue to be compassionate while raising the topic of their complaints, so their interactions are still mediated by fondness and care. These couples are also willing to apologize or forgive when necessary.
Within this premise, empathy-skilled partners are able to express their different opinions while integrating their point of views, compromise their expectations and sort their disputes.
Research has clearly demonstrated that partners reporting a happier marriage are constantly engaged in generating positive feelings within their interactions. Data show that in these couples, partners are more engaged in making their spouse feel special, cared for and loved just by doing small actions of appreciation towards them.
Moreover, they celebrate small achievements, highlight good moments, and support their partners during positive events. Feelings that are generated under these circumstances are highly related to happier relationships.
On the other hand, good feelings generated by the emotional support received in time of negative events were not found to be related to a happier marriages. In fact, research shows that the distress caused by bittern life events distracted troubled partners from the appreciation of the positive support they received while dealing with their concerns.
It is not surprising to discover that boredom and isolation in couples is significantly related to marital dissatisfaction. Research demonstrates that partners that interact positively using humor, and laughter keep their situations lively and stimulating. In addition, partners who spend more time together in leisure activities report greater feelings of closeness and connection in their marriage.
The positive feelings from enjoyment and the experience of pleasant activities has a significant role in preventing couple crises.
This is the reason why it is so important to break out of the routine by trying new things, exploring new places, taking classes together or opening to new opportunities.
Healthy couples nurture, support and comfort each other. They are more inclined to spend time sharing deeply about their personal hopes and dreams. They are greatly and mutually interconnected at a cognitive, emotional and at a behavioral level so that they get to know each other from simple preferences and wishes to the deepest core of their inner being.
This kind of rapport creates a shared meaning in their bonding and a fruitful purpose in their relationship over the long term.
For these kind of partners, disagreements and fights represent important means of personal growth, which constructively cement their marriage while enhancing their overall physical and mental health conditions.
However, some fighting styles are particularly devastating. So often people get entrenched in their position; whose are short tempered are likely to flare, rise voices and be defensive, aggressive or violent.
When partners repeatedly engage in heated power struggles or employ conflict avoidance, individual and couple sessions are effectively beneficial to address these particular aspects of the relationship.
While in therapy partners can learn how to improve their interactions by means of seeing the relationship in a more objective manner and change the way they behave with each other. In therapy, they have the opportunity to bring out their emotions and thoughts that they are fearful to express to the other person. Moreover, by exploring their couple dynamics, they can become aware of their unconscious games they play and discover the vicious cycle they are stuck in.
Successful therapy depends on each partner’s motivation and dedication to the process: their readiness and extent to acknowledge their role in the relationship, question themselves and delve into their personal issues.
Unfortunately, most of the couples seek help after the sense of negativity and tension has escalated and reached levels in which partners are deaf to each other’s efforts at making a respectful conversation.
Often the problems is that the more time they wait, the more difficult it may be to repair the relationship.
Although partners often strive to rescue their relationship and make a true effort in engaging and committing themselves to resolve their conflicts and disputes, in some cases they come into therapy having already decided to
separate. They may pursue therapy in order to end the relationship amicably and respectfully.
Since almost all relationship problems arise from deficient communication, couples should take into serious account acquiring tools to prevent unhealthy communication styles.
It seems also fundamental to strengthen the union of the couple by means of improving personal awareness, increasing understanding, developing and expanding mutual respect.
Lack in these skills in spouses’ conflict management can be irremediably damaging, procuring disengagement, withdrawal and may lead them into mental health issues.
Sessions of couple therapy would be highly recommended for couples who are preparing for getting married: by becoming emotionally well equipped to deal with their arguments and resolve their conflicts effectively, partners will be empowered towards fighting constructively. They will experience a happier and successful marriage and sensibly reduce any risk of divorce.
Dr Anna Grazia Lecca PhD
Senior Clinical Psychologist
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