Sometimes, understanding how love works feels more like rocket science than romance, especially when Cupid’s actions defy explanation and you feel like you need an advanced degree just to get farther than three dates with somebody new.
Happily, scientists at the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle have made it their job to rigorously study relationships of all types to help others understand what makes some of them successful — and what causes other relationships to fail. Using the RRI’s predictive research can help you make better decisions about dating.
The RRI was founded in 1998 by University of Washington psychologist Dr. John Gottman to serve a home base for his 35 years of research covering human relationships. Gottman is the author of many books, including The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships. After decades of studying various romantic couplings, Gottman used his findings to develop the “Sound Relationship House Theory,” which distills the behaviors he observed in couples who enjoyed satisfying, healthy relationships.
“We call these couples the ‘masters’ of relationships,” explains Renay Cleary Bradley, RRI’s director of research. “The masters have taught us many things about what couples who are in healthy relationships do, and what couples who would like to be in healthy relationships can do to build and maintain those relationships that last a lifetime.”
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Bradley advises being on the lookout for the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” for daters:
Stonewalling (shutting down communication)
“Research from our lab shows that couples who have a tendency to elicit these behaviors during their interactions are more likely to get divorced,” she says. That’s why it makes sense to look for these red flags when you’re interacting with a current or potential love interest.
Friendship and sharing
It sounds like a schmaltzy greeting card, but RRI studies show that the foundation of the successful relationship “house” is built on friendship and sharing both fondness and admiration for each other. “To maintain a healthy, happy relationship, couples of all types — whether they’re dating or married — should try to establish a close friendship and be willing to accept influences from each other,” Bradley says. And not simply because you’ll be spending a lot of time together, suggests Marla Martenson, a matchmaker and dating coach in Beverly Hills: “When you’re accepted for who you are and appreciated and respected, trust builds and the relationship flourishes.”
Using RRI’s research, look for these key elements in your interactions with your love interest:
Each of you is genuinely interested each others’ day-to-day lives, dreams, goals, likes/dislikes, and so on.
You ask each other open-ended questions, prompting for more information and details.
You show signs of affection like smiling, laughing, touching, holding hands, etc.
If one of you isn’t engaging in this kind of behavior, it’s probably a sign that you don’t need to keep dating. Why? Because you’re not exhibiting signs that you actually like each other!
Interacting positively is also a crucial component of any successful romance. “The masters of relationships show their fondness and admiration for one another, even when they disagree,” Bradley notes. “Our research shows that stable relationships have a 5-to-1 ratio between positive and negative communications.” And guess what — that includes fights! So when you and your partner aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on something, try:
Approaching the conflict calmly and with empathy.
Talking about your feelings, not the other person’s actions.
Avoiding making accusations.
Here’s an example from Carl Sheperis, director of doctoral programs for the School of Counseling and Social Services, Walden University: “If I say, ‘I was disappointed that you didn’t call when you were going to be late,’ then I’m describing my own feelings and experience. However, if I say, ‘You are always late and just don’t care enough to call,’ then I am criticizing my partner. The latter is much more likely to spark an argument.”
If there’s more negative than positive going on in your relationship, it’s time to bail. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life with someone who treats you this way. After all, notes Thomas Edwards, dating and lifestyle coach and founder of The Professional Wingman, “To maintain any relationship, both people have to put in the effort to make the other person feel safe, happy and most of all, loved.”
When applied, RRI’s predictive research can help you avoid bad relationships and build great ones. “Our research shows that both couples and individuals can learn the skills needed to build a sound, stable ‘relationship house,’” Bradley says. “Struggling singles searching for the right person can start to build these skills now — even without a partner. This will enable you to use these skills right from the start so that all potential relationships will automatically begin on the right track.”
Margot Carmichael Lester, a freelance writer based in North Carolina, also writes for Florida Weddings and Hemispheres and online for Monster.com, Elance.com and others.