What a stable relationship would you think?

Stable partnership: How real arguing saves the relationship

by Stefanie Maeck and Tilman Botzenhardt
Why quarreling is often an elixir of love - and how happiness can be calculated

Anyone who lives with a partner for a long time inevitably has to resolve many conflicts. Many men and women who succeed in a stable relationship often have an advantage right from the start: They usually have a person by their side who is very similar to them in some ways, such as sharing their own convictions, goals or values. Nevertheless, couples whose relationship is stable also argue. Many disputes are sparked by questions of caring for and bringing up children, the way partners treat one another and the division of labor in the household. Fundamental conflicts often arise from seemingly banal occasions.

The US psychologist John Gottman has examined how heated debates affect the happiness of couples. For decades he observed the communication of thousands of men and women, including in an apartment equipped with cameras. His sobering conclusion: Partners rarely succeed in finding constructive solutions in ongoing disputes. The attempt to resolve fundamental differences of opinion in lengthy relationship work is usually doomed to failure.

But that doesn't mean that couples should avoid all arguments. The decisive factor for the quality and the continuation of a partnership is not the result of a dispute, according to Gottman, but the way in which it is carried out.

In his opinion, four typical behaviors in conflict are particularly dangerous:

  • Unobjective criticism. The partners formulate their displeasure as a general reproach, for example “You never tidy up the kitchen, I always have to do everything” instead of “The kitchen is not tidy, that bothers me. Why didn't you do that? "
  • Justification. The partners only react to criticism with defense - a procedure that almost always triggers cascades of attacks and counter-attacks between the partners.
  • Contempt. The partners show that they disregard the other, for example through disparaging remarks, sarcasm or open humiliation.
  • Walls. One of the partners withdraws from the dispute by refusing to talk, demonstratively listening away, eagerly turning to something to do or even leaving the room.

Long-term satisfied couples, on the other hand, manage to largely avoid these four behaviors in conflict. In an argument, they do not devalue each other - and they signal closeness to the other party (often during the argument): They hug each other, make humorous remarks or emphasize that they have understood the partner's concerns. For Gottman, such behaviors are essential to maintaining a beneficial relationship over the long term. According to his studies, partners have to create an average of five positive experiences in order to make up for a negative one, such as an insult or a hurtful negligence. Five to one, this recipe for dealing with conflict is now referred to by relationship researchers as that "Gottman constant".

Yes to conflict, no to re-education

Stable couples do not only have a constructive conflict style. They are also better able to distinguish when an argument is promising and when it is not. In doing so, she guides an insight that
Therapists confirm: Those who want to educate their partner usually only reap bitter resistance.
Satisfied couples therefore do not even try to overcome every difference in their relationship: Instead of using their energy on insoluble problems, they occasionally set aside their own claims. A behavior that the psychotherapist Arnold Retzer describes as "resigned maturity" - and for an important one The prerequisite for successful relationships.