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Four keys to a happier relationship

Main Line Health October 13, 2015 General Wellness By Paula Durlofsky, PhD

Let's be honest, relationships are hard work. They demand a lot from us and the quality of our relationships greatly predicts our degree of happiness in life. So working on cultivating and sustaining healthy relationships is very important for us to do.

Current divorce statistics report 45–50 percent of marriages end in divorce with second and third marriages having even higher divorce rates.
Nourishing a relationship requires us to be thoughtful, caring, compassionate, loving and also mindful of how our behaviors and expressions impact the other person. Conflicts happen at some point during any relationship; there will be tough times when one or both individuals feel hurt, frustrated, angry, or let down by the other.

Social scientists have found that how couples navigate the tough times and—just as importantly—the good times is a major predictor of relationship success. Kindness was found to be the biggest factor associated with fulfilling relationships. Not only is kindness important in the couple's day to day interactions but also when couples argue. Kindness during periods of conflict is determined by the couple's ability to express their anger, upset and frustration without personal attacks.

Kindness not only improves the quality of our relationships, it also improves our own emotional well being. When we feel better about ourselves our relationships reap the benefits. An environment of kindness naturally fosters feelings of emotional security and safety; essential ingredients for a successful relationship.

Not surprisingly, personal criticism of each other was most associated with unhappy relationships. Personal attacks can have lasting and devastating consequences on a relationship and it leads to feelings of contempt and resentment. Learning to be kind to each other and being mindful of our partner's feelings is the foundation needed for building strong, healthy relationships.

Below are four tips for cultivating kindness in your relationship:

1. Compliment your partner

Tell your partner on a daily basis something you liked that he or she did either that day or did recently. Research shows that when couples regularly express their gratitude to each other they remind themselves of their partner's good qualities and what attracted them to each other in the first place. Complimenting your partner on a daily basis provides a healthy dose of spackle that helps keep a couple together over the long haul.

2. Learn to compromise

Couples that are able to compromise have a better of chance of staying together and be happier in their relationships. Just to be clear, there is a big difference between compromise and sacrifice; which means means giving up something completely for the sake of your partner. Sacrificing creates contention and resentment. Compromise, on the other hand, requires an understanding of your partner's ideas, opinions and knowing what is important to him or her and why. This information is helpful for negotiating compromises with our partner. It prevents us from feeling pushed or controlled, the type of feelings that often inhibit productive compromises and lead to power struggles instead.

3. Remember no one is perfect

No one is perfect or good at everything they do. We all make mistakes and bound to hurt and/or disappoint our partner at one time or another. Accepting this reality helps us to have the capacity to forgive and to resolve conflicts when they arise rather then harbor contempt and resentment, only to be brought up at a later time.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Although the idea of our partner being someone who “fully gets us” sounds ideal, no one can actually read our minds. Learning to communicate by actively listening to your partner and using “I” statements, especially when discussing emotional topics, feelings and expectations, fosters an environment of mutual understanding and respect. When we feel understood by our partner, even when they disagree with us, genuine feelings of connection and caring are felt. All of which decreases the chances for couples to have emotionally damaging arguments.

Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples, and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.