I was reading research on relationships by Prof John Gottman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington. Gottman was recognized in 2007 as one of the 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century. Research at the Gottman Institute in Seattle USA has focused on why some couples stay together while others fall apart.
Their research shows that to make a relationship last, couples must become better friends, learn to manage conflict, and create ways to support each other’s hopes for the future. This blog is focusing on what it takes to become better friends.
Gottman’s research shows that three things make up such friendship:
The first thing is building what he calls “love maps”. This means really striving to understand your partner’s inner world and that which inspires, shapes and moves them. Asking open curious questions of your partner (those that need more than a yes or a no for an answer) is a way to do this. Questions like, “So how are feeling about that project at work at the moment?” or, “Now that the children have left home, what are your dreams for the foreseeable future?” Questions like these try to get a deep understanding of the other person and what is important to them.
The second thing Gottman says makes a good friendship, is building a “fondness and admiration system” of respect, appreciation and affection. Looking for where your partner does things right and not being on the lookout for where they are screwing up, and expressing your appreciation.
The third ingredient of such friendship he calls “Turning toward”. This aspect is crucial as the essential ingredient that builds Trust in a relationship, and without trust there can’t be a relationship. “Turning toward”, is when one person makes a “bid” towards the other person – sometimes subtle, sometimes not – expressing a need for affection, conversation (connection), interest or emotional support – and the other person responds and acknowledges this, even if only in a really tiny way. If they don’t respond to the bid at all and ignore it, Gottman calls this “turning away”. Or if they respond with hostility, this is called “turning against”.
By employing these three techniques, all close and important relationships can be improved. It works for parent-child relationships and for friendships too.