Do you remember when you were first getting to know your partner? Most of us have very fond memories of these times. Think about how the two of you met, out of all the people in the world. When was the first time you saw each other? The first time you spoke? What was the first "date" like? The first time you kissed? Made love?
Even if this period does not last long, memories of how-sweet these times can be are stored away forever. For some, these positive memories contrast so sharply with the pain of current relationship difficulties that immediate relationship challenges seem overwhelming. If that is the case for you, we encourage you to accept the challenge to make the relationship better, and we hope to help you through the program we present.
In our view, most people who are partners in a couple have no more important goal in their lives than relationship success. As psychotherapists, teachers, and researchers, we listen every day to our patients, students, and research participants speak of how important their personal relationships are to their sense of well-being. When a relationship is going well, partners are happier, healthier, both physically and mentally, and there is more energy for life.
Unfortunately, for about one out of every two marriages these benefits are never realized. When a relationship is deadened by anger or detachment and withdrawal, partners can find themselves ill, depressed, and dissatisfied with many aspects of their lives. A variety of national surveys collected by the National Center for Health Statistics have found that people immersed in relationship conflicts are more likely to need medical attention and more likely to find themselves in a hospital bed, for either medical or psychiatric reasons, than are those who are happily married. Relationship problems also touch more than two million children a year, and they too will bear the wounds of relationship distress.
But people don't get married for the health benefits. They marry for love, companionship, for a family. They marry for friendship and intimacy. Even though nearly one out of every two marriages will end in divorce, marriage remains the life-style of choice. Most people don't know it, but the divorce rate in the U.S. actually declined about 10 percent during the 1980s and has remained at a twenty-three-year low through 1992. So there is reason for hope. Yet when a marriage ends, people tend to jump back into another relationship within three years; and, on the average, these new relationships stand an even greater chance of encountering serious conflict than do first marriages.
So why do most of us desire to be in an intimate relationship when it is so often fraught with difficulties? The strength of these desires lies in the promise of happiness that comes along with relationship success. With this book, you can increase your chance of seeing that promise fulfilled—and of being in the 50 percent of couples who make it.
If preventing and curing relationship conflict seems like an impossible dream, it's because counselors and other books have been setting their sights too low. All too often, they discuss why relationships are doomed to fail rather than teaching couples how to succeed. They argue that men and women are fundamentally different rather than helping women and men discover their similar needs. They teach couples how to "fight fair" instead of how not to fight. They tell couples how to make their relationships marginally better, instead of how to make them wonderfully successful. We believe this book presents a new kind of model for you to follow, with a focus on optimism.
In these pages, we will unveil the mysteries of good and bad relationships, conveying tested remedies for making the bad ones good and the good ones better. Diagnostic questionnaires will enable you to pinpoint your relationship trouble-spots, and clearly defined, readily applied skills of communication and conflict management will empower you to remake your relationship—or just to make it the loving union you had always hoped it to be.
Couples Research Made Easy
With the results of over twenty years of research with thousands of couples, we can now share with you the precise factors that make a relationship satisfying to both members. Our studies have involved diverse groups of happy and unhappy couples at all stages of the life cycle—from those planning marriage, to those getting ready for their first child, to those looking back on thirty-plus years of marriage. Couples from all walks of life, from large cities to small communities, and from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic classes have shared their lives with us in over twenty-five separate investigations. We have analyzed how they talk, how they think, and how they handle conflict. Through our research we have developed a language to describe and understand relationship success. And we have learned that relationship success depends on the ability of two people to manage the conflicts that inevitably occur in all relationships. Partners are often very motivated to work on their marriage but simply do not know how to transform their motivation into meaningful action. Without that capacity, some of the solutions become part of the problem instead of the remedy.
Our studies have identified the real-life communication skills of successful relationships. Based on what we have learned about the key features of loving, effective, harmonious long-term relationships, we have developed clinically proven methods to steer couples toward success and away from common pitfalls. In effect, we have found that destructive marital conflict can not only be 'cured' it can also be prevented.