How Great Loves Can Become Disasters

It hardly seems possible. You and your partner were in love and couldn't get enough of each other. Now, you have that little knot in the pit of your stomach that says, "Maybe this was a mistake."

Have you ever found yourself asking, "What's going wrong?" How could it be so different now?" We're living together to make sure we would get along. And, now it feels like our relationship is slipping away."

Have you read the discussion of the magic positivity ratio? It simply means that a successful relationship requires a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. If your relationship is starting into dangerous grounds, your ratio of positives to negatives has fallen below 5 to 1. More negativity has slipped into your relationship. Let's talk about how that happens.

Stopped being friends, or never were.

The wonderful people at the Gottman Institute and other researchers into marriage and relationships say that one key to a great relationship is a great friendship. Friends like being together. You're friends when your partner wants to be with you. How satisfying do you make it for your partner to spend time with you? You need to be friends with your partner.

Think a moment about you and your best friend, and how you are together. Do you listen to one another? Do you pay attention to what your friend says? Do you have a sense of what your friend is feeling? Does your friend listen, pay attention, and have a sense of what you are feeling and thinking? That"s what friends do for each other.

When your best friend screws up, do you blame or criticize? No, you empathize. When you're not getting what you want from your friend, do you whine and complain? Not if you want to keep your friend.

Now, think about how you are with your partner. Do you treat your partner the way you would treat your friend? Why not?

Most people say things like, "I wouldn't be happy if my partner wasn't more than a friend. I married my lover." Or, "You don"t have sex with your friend. A lover is different than a friend."

Of course, your partner is different from your friend. But, there's no reason you can't also be friends with your partner. And, you"ll spend a whole lot more time being with your partner than you ever will with your friend. So, you want to be friends as well as lovers.

You give your best friend respect and admiration. If you didn't, you wouldn't have that friend. That's the least that friends do for each other. We're talking about how relationships go sour, and the number one reason is: you've stopped being friends with your lover, or you never were friends. If that fits you, then decide to make friends with your partner. See the article on how you and your partner can be better friends.

Another reason relationships go sour is unrealistic expectations about conflicts.


Maybe you were one of those innocents who put up with your partner's flaws while dating or even living together, with the unspoken thought, "I"ll change that once we"re married." Good luck!

When you were dating you may have found it easy to resolve conflicts. Maybe you didn't have any. Maybe your partner avoided conflicts by giving you your way all the time. Or, maybe you avoided conflicts by always giving in to your partner. By now, you've discovered that things change once you've settled down for a while. If either of you were avoiding conflicts by giving way to your partner, you've now discovered that you don"t want to do that for the rest of your life. So, conflicts begin to arise. Some of them you'd seen coming. Some of them are pure and total shocks.

Unrealistic expectations about conflicts

"Whoa," you think. "My partner, my lover, has changed! This isn't the way things used to be." So, you decide to make it clear that surprises aren't okay with you. You'll put your foot down and make things go back to the way they used to be. Good luck, with that.

Everybody told you. Your parents warned you. Your friends warned you. Late night comics warned you. They told you that relationships aren't easy. This is what they meant.

Conflicts will keep happening for the rest of your time together

Research into marriages shows us that about 70% of the conflict issues in marriage will never get resolved. People have those issues for as long as they are married. However, if you learn to recognize those irresolvable issues, you can avoid 70% of your fights, and learn to accept them instead.

So, if you've got fights that never get anywhere, and conflicts that aren't resolved; you're wasting your time and energy, and hurting your relationship. You need to learn to identify those issues that will be part of your relationship forever, and start learning to laugh more and fight less about those differences. (See the article on how to stop fighting.)

This will "blow your mind." The most dangerous risk to relationship, and the single most identifiable sign of a relationship headed for a break up, is the first three minutes of a conflict discussion.

It's poisonous to begin a conflict discussion negatively

Researchers have proven that a conflict discussion that starts negatively is likely to end negatively. Conflict discussions that begin on a positive note are likely to end positively. Don't you wish you"d learned that in school? It's not too late. If you see conflict coming, take a deep breath, think good thoughts about your partner, and say something positive, even if your partner began with a negative.

A strong positive can turn things around, and get things going positively. If you start with a negative, or respond to your partners' negative with a negative, then the conflict can spiral into mutual hurting.

Conflict spirals into mutual hurting

We"'e all born with the ability to fight or flee. I kick you, you're equipped by nature with the natural reaction to kick me back, or run away. If you decide to fight back, your heart pumps, your arteries constrict, your pupils constrict, and your ability to think and reason is overwhelmed by the reactions of your autonomic nervous system.

That means, just when you need your reasoning ability the most, you don"t have it.

When you are locked in a battle with your lover, your partner, your friend, you have less capacity to think. So, you fight back. If your lover hurts you this much, you'll hurt back that much. So, your partner hurts you more, and you'll hurt back more, and so it goes.

You battle the way that nature equipped you to battle

Nature was equipping you to survive in the jungle. You have to be careful that you don't let nature carry you away when you're are in conflict with someone you treasure, and have promised to love, honor and cherish.

Four corrosive steps

If you get locked into a spiral of mutual hurting, you can be tempted to use those four negative tactics Dr. John Gottman"s research proves are poisonous to a relationship:

These four corrosive steps tend to happen in that order.

If one partner begins the conflict discussion with a criticism, the other partner has the opportunity to repair the damage by responding with a positive that takes the transaction in a productive direction. Research proves that one partner can turn the other one around.

If, instead of a positive, the partner responds with defensiveness, it escalates the conflict. The attacks get more corrosive, and the defensiveness increases.

The worst and most dangerous of the four major negatives is Contempt. Contempt, all by itself, is a leading indicator of a relationship en route to a break up. Contempt belittles the partner, and is the absolute opposite of the admiration and respect we owe our partners. Contempt doesn"t have to be expressed in words; it can be non-verbal, for example, an "eye roll."

The fourth step, Stonewalling, occurs when one party, usually the one being attacked and treated contemptuously, exits the transaction by either leaving or going inside and failing to respond any further to the transaction.

When the slippery slope of conflict begins with criticism, the problem doesn't get solved, and the relationship is damaged.

Gottman and Levonson found 2 high risk points in the life of a relationship. The first is in the first 7 years (average 5.2) years, and the second high-risk point is later (averaging 16.2 years). Let's call these "volatile" and "unfriendly" relationships. The early break ups came to "volatile" relationships, marked by conflicts where the lovers used the negative start, and got caught up in the criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling cycle. So, don't do that, or you"re dooming you and your relationship to an early demise.

Learn how to deal with conflict issues in a positive way

The "unfriendly" relationships lasted longer, but were marked by a lack of positivity. So, if you won't or can"t be friends with your lover, and you don't give your lover the respect and admiration that you owe your partner, but reserve for your friends, you might only last around 16 years.

Failing to be friends, and hurtful fighting mark the slow and fast paths to a break up.

You, with your new relationship, can avoid the traps that have ensnared many couples before you. Become friends, and stop hurtful fighting.

The rest of the articles will help you skirt around the potholes on the relationship road to happiness. Happy reading.

(Make sure you also read "Don't Fight!")

© 2005 Visionary Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved