A variety of experts such as Gottman, Johnson, and Tatkin, say one of the most common conflict cycles in relationships is the pursuer-distancer dynamic. In other words, if one partner becomes frustrated, agitated or (in extreme cases) aggressive - the other partner's reaction may be to become increasingly defensive and/or physically distant. This includes leaving the room, house, or neighbourhood.
Dr John Gottman says, “More relationships die by ice than by fire.” What does he mean? Through Gottman’s research, he found that couples who stopped talking together, who were ‘too busy’ to make time for each other, or who simply ‘got on with the everyday business of life’, ended up emotionally disconnected from each other.
What a tremendous opportunity we are presented with as we take time to rest and gather with friends and family and to make meaning of the year just past. What we believed to be important and took for granted in the beginning of the year radically changed in March. Unquestionably, 2020 was a struggle for many people, families and relationships and, through necessity, 2020 allowed us to strip back our deeply held values and priorities in life (for some it seemed to be toilet paper)! Priorities like safety, security, health, connection, time together, appreciation and gratefulness emerged as repeated themes.
Words like ‘change’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘crazy’, have been thrown around daily in our lives over the past 7 months. COVID, shut-down, quarantine, isolation have become conditions we have had to learn to live with. They have all become associated with negative feelings, fear, hopelessness, and most of us feel like we are in a constant state of survival. This is a very hard way to live and yet we are managing it. The conditions that have led to this state of affairs have changed irrevocably how we will live in the future - greater awareness on hygiene, social distancing, management of viral illness both at a macro and micro level. On top of that, we are also aware that trying to go back to our old ways leads to community relapse and results in a re-emergence of infections, loss and distress.
These same conditions can be found when we take a look at relationships that begin to struggle.
So here we are at the Easter / ANZAC public holidays, and like many people I speak to, it is ‘How did we get here so quickly’?
With over three months passing since Christmas and the first term of school is done, I look back over this period and remonstrate the amount of work, tasks, logistics, driving, sport events, school functions, time on planes, taxis and hotel rooms I have spent and wonder … how did we fit it all in?
Indeed, life is busy, so how do we continue at this pace and stay connected in our relationships. John Gottman quotes a study of professional couples where both are working full time, and it is found that during their week there is less than 30 minutes of conversation between the 2 of them and the majority of this conversation is on logistics e.g. who is dropping the kids off to their extracurricular activities, what to buy for dinner and so on.
This cannot be OK. I appreciate we are all busy. Nevertheless we need to make, indeed create, opportunities in our relationship to connect, to generate fondness and friendship, to update each other on how we are traveling through time and space individually and together.
So how we can we do this?
The following are three suggestions on how this can be achieved. They don’t necessarily cost money, but they do include time and the both of you.
Understanding our own needs and communicating these to our loved ones are an important way of letting people truly know us and be successful in demonstrating their love, care and consideration of us.
Many couples ask, what changes in your life after you have a baby?
The better question to ask is … what DOESN’T change!
These transformations, modifications and reformations can be too many to list here today – but we will focus on 4 facts that are backed by research – that do affect many couples once they bring a new baby home.
1. Did you know that 67% of all couples become unhappy during the first 3 years of their baby’s life? Only 33% remain content!
The transition to parenthood can be a complex maze that many couples simply do not know that they need to prepare for. The new parenting books often fail to acknowledge the challenges that a couple will face when they bring a new baby home that often can affect the very core of their relationship.
The last few decades of human research have clearly demonstrated to us how inescapably relational and interconnected people are, however, most therapists still primarily work with individuals, most of whom present with serious, persistent problems in their intimate relationships.
Part of the reason is that many clients themselves avoid couples therapy. Sometimes they resist because they aren’t sure if they want to stay in the relationship, they are ambivalent and perhaps hope to get some clarity from seeing a therapist individually.
Sometimes they fear the unpleasant things their partner might say about them or they are scared about how volatile things might get if they raise issues they are unhappy about with their partner present. Sometimes the thought of really talking about what’s not working in their relationship feels too hard and there is not enough safety or trust in their relationship for them to allow themselves to become vulnerable about their hurts in front of their partner.
The holiday season can be a wonderful opportunity to take time out from the stressors of daily life, the pressures of work, the never-ending list of tasks and duties and to connect with your partner, children, family and friends. The holiday season is much anticipated and highly valued by many. It is the end of one year and beginning of another. A time for reflection on the past, a time for planning for the future and importantly a time to be present with the important people in your world. The holiday season can often be rich with rituals that bring people together, sharing experiences, traditions and connections.
It is also true that the holiday season can be a very difficult time where relationships can become strained and disconnected, where expectations and ideals are not discussed or shared, where miscommunication and tension can arise.
What is your partners favourite song? Favourite Ice Cream flavour, flower, sports team, movie, holiday destination, their favourite memory in your relationship, their birthday, anniversaries?
Do you know these answers about your partner in the present moment?
John and Julie Gottman call this Building Love Maps.
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