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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Making Your Relationship Work

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 5th 2013

Making Your Relationship WorkA few weeks ago on Valentine's Day, we celebrated love and romance. However, life continues after the romance wears off. Love, alone, is not enough to make relationships endure. It takes hard work for marriages work successfully. In other words, it doesn't just happen. So, what are the ingredients that contribute towards marriages that succeed or fail? This is an important question in an age when the national rate of divorce is more than fifty percent for new marriages. According to John Gottman, the foremost researcher and expert on marriage, there are four factors that contribute to the likelihood that a couple will divorce:

1. Criticism: Attacking your partner's personality with the intent of proving him or her wrong. For example, "Why are you so sloppy, late, slow, etc?"

 a. "you always do this, say this, act that way," or "you never," and making other types of generalizations.

2. Contempt: Attacking your partner's sense of self with the intention to psychologically cause harm and be abusive. Examples are:

 a. hurling insults, name calling.
 b. hostile humor, sarcasm, mockery.
 c. sneering, rolling of eyes, upper lip curling, nasty tone of voice.

3. Defensiveness: Reacting to your partner as though you are being attacked and you are the victim:

 a. making excuses for the way you acted or denying that it's your fault.
 b. reacting to your partner's complaint with one of your own and ignoring his or her complaint.
 c. disagreeing with your partner's complaint and blaming your partner.
 d. always playing the victim, "poor me." "You are making me feel so bad." "You're unfair." 

4. Stonewalling: Withdrawing in order to avoid or ignore a conflict or argument:

 a. silent treatment.
 b. one word mutterings.
 c. leaving the room.
 d. attempting to change the subject.

Gottman refers to these as the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" because they lead to divorce.

There are many things couples can do to either stop or prevent doing these things that are so destructive to relationships. It's important to remember that all couples have arguments. It's the quality of the way people argue that is most important:

a. make "I" comments rather than "You." Starting a complaint with the pronoun "you" is very accusatory and serves to make your partner defensive. On the other hand, starting with the pronoun "I" makes it clear that you are talking about how you feel and not what the other did to you.

b. express gratefulness for all the positive things your partner does or that you appreciate. It's too easy to focus on the negative but can also be easy to focus on the positive.

c. admit to mistakes you have made.

d. accept your partner's feelings.

e. validate your partner instead of trying to make them wrong.

In addition to all of this, seeing to small things can go a long way towards a successful relationship. Having a sense of humor with each other. Taking time to be silly and joke is important. Deciding to have an argument later can be helpful in terms of reducing tensions. Hugs and kisses never hurt, no do flowers, cards and other expressions of affection. It is important for couples to take time from their busy lives at work and home to date one another. Time away from the kids by going out to dinner and/going to the movies can only enhance a relationship. And, never take your partner for granted. Tell him or her how great those clothes are and how attractive that hair cut is.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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