Depression, anxiety, and divorce are continuing to rise. The fallout on marriages and parenting is immense. It may be time to get back to core values of marriage and family. One question to ask yourself: “Is my home a place to get support and reduce stress?”
One of the best resources for relational tools is Dr. John Gottman. He is the leading researcher on marriage and family relationships. He’s “the guy that can predict divorce and family break up with 94% accuracy.” He has provided the blueprints for what he calls a “Sound Relationship House.” A sound relationship house is made possible by two support beams: trust and commitment. Based on his research, Gottman outlines seven levels that predict healthy family relationships, which are highlighted below.
1. Build love maps.
There’s an advantage to knowing the best ways to love each individual in our family. Here are five tools.
Gottman love maps for couples and kids
List of favorite things or ways to feel loved
Our Moments card game (or similar game based on personal questions for each other)
What if once a day you did something for each family member that made them feel loved?
2. Share fondness and admiration.
This is known as the care and feeding of the relationship. What if once a day you shared fondness or admiration with each family member? Remembering your partner or family member’s positive qualities strengthens bonds. Keeping the positive in a conversation is key. To maintain respect amongst each other, avoid what Gottman calls The Four Horsemen: contempt, criticism, defensiveness stonewalling.
3. Turn towards instead of away.
Now what does that mean? Family members often make bids for connection, looking for a response. Examples of bids are making a statement, asking a question, expressing affection, or even doing work around the home. People wanting a connection are looking for a response. Will it be a positive response or a negative response? Turning towards the other means a positive response at a minimum of a 5 to 1 ratio. For every time that a bid for connection is missed or criticized, there needs to be five or more positive responses to maintain a healthy balance. Healthy relationships respond well 86% of the time while relationships breaking down respond positively only 33% of the time. Ask yourself what are some ways that your spouse or kids bid for connection?
4. The positive perspective.
94% of the time, couples who put a positive spin on their relationship’s history are likely to have a happy future. When disagreeing with a family member, taking an understanding approach from the other person’s perspective is better than taking it personally. This is challenging and may be impossible if feeling defensive. Seek to understand without judgement. It’s possible one has to take the first step towards looking into a positive way to connect.
5. Manage conflict
First signs of tension are arguments or trying to fix another person. Warning signs that the conversations about to get worse are criticism and defense. Danger signs for any relationship are the presence of high resentment or putting up a wall.
Instead, before you resolve anything, take turns using the acronym ACE. Ask questions, Clarify what the other person is feeling and thinking, and Empathize. If you notice you’re getting defensive when you disagree, it is likely time to disengage (and re-engage later).
Just make sure each side feels understood, then focus on making future agreements while allowing for your differences. The best agreements are based on good disagreements. 69% of conflict is due to personality differences that will not change, but good agreements and understanding can overcome this challenge.
I have found that the more I am able to disagree with someone comfortably, the more I’m able to empathize and appreciate them. Just because we may disagree does not mean that we don’t care. The hardest part is usually being able to let go of one’s ego and one’s need to be right.
6. Make life dreams come true.
What is important to our spouse and kids and how can we help? Can you identify what each family member is passionate about and contribute to it in some way? Sharing dreams together gives strength and connection to the relationship. “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else” (Erma Bombeck).
7. Create shared meaning
Over time families develop their own ways of doing things. For example: What is your family morning routine? How do you spend your evenings and weekends? What do we do for holidays or celebrations?
Maybe pick one step to practice at a time. No need to rush, and each step is meaningful in its own way.
The Bible also has a lot to say about this topic. Here are a few references.