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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisabeth Medlock

7 Keys to Successful Relationships

Research tells us what leads to good, long lasting relationships. It is not a mystery. Dr. John Gottman, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and longtime relationship researcher, is my go to for the knowledge base of what makes and breaks relationships. From his decades of studying marital relationships, he devised 7 principles of successful relationships. Put them to work in your life.

1) Know things about the other person: Gottman’s first principle is to have a “love map” of your partner. What that means is that we should know stuff about the other person. Factual stuff, likes and dislikes, important people and events, hopes and dreams, values and beliefs. Pay attention, ask questions and show interest. We all want to be known and seen.

2) Spread the love (or positivity): Gottman’s second principle is to project admiration and fondness. That means expressing positive sentiments, really listening, taking turns, and showing interest and affection. Be kind and say nice things. We all deserve to be treated with kindness. Being wanted by and connected to others is a strong need.

3) Let others know they are valued: Gottman’s third principle is to turn toward each other instead of away. Doing this means engaging in those small acts of daily kindness and acknowledgement that make others feel important. Sometimes we get into the rhythm of our day in the grind of the week and forget the small things, like calling a friend that has an important date, or texting someone encouragement before a hard task. These are things that take a minute, but leave a lasting impression and make a difference.

4) Share your power and control in relationships: Gottman’s fourth principle is no easy task- to let others influence you. This means engaging in compromise and seeking to understand underlying reasons for differences of opinion. It means instead of being angry, criticizing, or becoming defensive; to take time to listen, understand and maybe yield, just a little.

5) Solve your solvable problems. Issues that are solvable are situational. They are less intense than deep seeded, perpetual problems. They can get emotionally loaded quickly, so when they crop up- deal with them. Calm down, use your “I” statements, figure out the trigger and own your feelings. Learn how to tolerate each other. You can be madly in love with someone who does not share your opinions or feelings.

6) Overcome gridlock: Gridlock happens when people’s life dreams, hopes, aspirations, or wishes for their life are not being addressed or respected by their partner. The issues could be things like need for space and independence, spirituality, conditions that create peace, future life goals, etc. You want to move from gridlock into dialogue. So the first step in overcoming gridlock is to determine the dream or hopes or goals that are causing your conflict. The next steps include talking to each other about your dreams, taking a break (since some of these talks can get stressful) and making peace with the problem.

7) Create shared meaning: Relationships have a culture with rituals, symbols, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you to your family-your tribe. This ranges from how you celebrate birthdays to the looks you give that signal when it’s time to leave a party. And that’s what it means to develop shared meaning. Happy couples create a family culture that includes both of their dreams and defines and gives meaning to each of their roles. In being open to each other’s perspectives and opinions, happy couples naturally come together. Every family needs rituals, but each family develops their own. It may be dinners eaten together, family game night, talking on the phone with family at least once a week, or a holiday newsletter. It is these rituals that bind us together.

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