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Why Couples Break Up & Ways to Keep your Relationship Strong

How do we make our relationship strong and prevent a break up? We need to know the answer so that we can keep our relationship or marriage as strong as possible.   

Some of the most concise and interesting information can be found from Dr.Gottman a researcher and author whose books are listed below.


According to Dr Gottmans’s research, there are four communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. He refers to them as the “Four Horseman,” they are criticism, defensiveness, contempt & stonewalling. 


They can predict with over 90% accuracy which couples will stay together after watching them for 15 minutes.


This statistic alone should make everyone pay attention to what he has to say about creating a strong relationship.



The four relationship killers


  1. Criticism


When you criticize your partner it is a personal attack on their character. This is different than a complaint, which is attacking the problem, not the person.  


This is when you say to your partner “You never pay attention to what I want, I can’t believe that you are so selfish.” Vs “ I feel left out when you don’t pay attention to me,” or “I feel closer when we do more things together.”


We all have heard this before and the reason is that it is so very important!


Attack the problem NOT the person.


What to do instead


He suggests that you express your needs in a positive way. Use ”I” statements. “I feel,” “I need.” Not “You” statements, “You never do this,” or “Your so selfish.” You get the idea.


Take a second to think about the words that you use when having disagreements.Its much easier to not say something hurtful, that it is to repair the hurt afterward.


  1. Defensiveness

Being defensive is a quick way to escalate the conflict if the person that is critical does not back down or apologize. 


This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner, which will not allow for the conflict to be dealt with in a healthy way. Don’t twist it around!


What to do instead


Accept your partner’s perspective and offer an apology. Try to figure out the part that you played in the conflict and admit to your part.


This will help to de-escalate and create a space to breathe. By admitting your part in the argument it opens the door for your and your partner will be able to work towards a compromise to the problem. The goal should always be a compromise not a win.


  1. Contempt


Criticism & disrespect leads to ultimately to contempt. Communicating with contempt means we are really mean and mocking. Rolling eyes, being sarcastic & name calling all falls under contempt. 


Not showing any validation for the way that your partner is feeling makes them feel despised and worthless. This is a very hard place come out of unscathed. Its very hurtful and its effects are long term.


Communicating with contempt assumes that they are morally inferior to you and that you perceive yourself  above them.


What to do instead


Be appreciative and grateful for your partners good qualities and actions. Expressing small things often is the way to keep your relationship healthy. 


We all love a special gift or a romantic getaway. But the reality is that if we do not maintain the relationship daily, all the big romantic gestures will fail.


Showing affection and respect creates a positive environment for your relationship that acts as a buffer for negativity and conflict.


The more positive and proud you feel about your partner, the less likely that you’ll feel negative towards them and show contempt.


According to his research it requires 5 positive interactions to one negative interaction for a relationship to succeed when in conflict.It requires 20 positive interactions to one negative in regular daily interactions.


This means that our relationships need to be replenished by those ratios to keep our relationship strong.


I think we all know this on some level without maybe knowing how to verbalize it. We need those good moments to far outweigh the negative or we get resentful.


things we do that lead to breakups


  1. Stonewalling


Stonewalling is the opposite of confronting our issues. People who act in this communication style tune out their partners. They stay distracted  or walk away to not deal with the problem. When one partner shuts down, it’s time to take a break and return when both of you are calmer.



What to do instead


Take 20 minutes to calm down and do something that is distracting. 


Go for a walk, read a magazine, listen to music, anything that will allow you to calm down.  Then you can return to the conversation with a better frame of mind.


You need to engage in the conversation and not shut down

Use open body language, nod and maintain eye contact. Use verbal cues to move the conversation forward. Yes, uh huh, maybe….

Most couples become stronger when they put the effort into learning these skills.


How to manage conflict


All successful relationships have conflict, period. It is unavoidable. The research shows that is NOT the conflict that breaks people up but how we manage that conflict.


Most people will never resolve their conflicts. People tend to disagree about the same things throughout their relationship. That’s why we have to find a way to manage that conflict.


The Four Horsemen and Their Antidotes 


What is necessary to keep a relationship strong?


These three things are necessary for keeping your relationship strong and healthy to prevent breaking up.


Intimate friendship


 To have an intimate friendship means that you are really interested in your partner. You want to be part of their world. You want to know them intimately, their hopes, dreams and values.


 The way that this can be achieved is by asking open ended questions. Questions such as “Where do you see us in five years?” or “What are some things that are on your bucket list?” 


People change and grow so these questions should be asked now and again to make sure that you both are on the same page.


Fondness and admiration, respect and affection


These must be cultivated for a successful strong relationship. Find small ways to be appreciative of the things that your partner does.


Say thank you,regularly. No one wants to be taken for granted, so start the ball rolling by setting the example that you want for yourself. 


Show respect to your partner and affection while at home and when you are out in public. Holding hands or touching while you are talking, are little ways to connect. 


The more you express your feelings of fondness, admiration, respect and affection to your partner, the more you will receive in return.


Getting attention (tiny bids)


“Tiny bids” is a term  Dr. Gottman uses when one partner tries to engage the other is small ways. It’s turning towards your partner not away from them. 


 For example, one person may say “Did you enjoy your lunch today” and the other just grunts or doesn’t reply. 


That is a “bid” that was ignored. The more of these “tiny bids” for attention that are ignored, the more separated the other partner becomes.


Paying attention to this shows that you are interested in your partner & that you hear them. They know that you are on their team and that you care about them. It’s the small ways that you make your partner feel special.


The opposite is also true, the more one person is disinterested and doesn’t engage, the worse off the relationship will be.

Keeping these 3 things working well creates a buffer to irritability. Also  when these three areas are working well together, humor is more often used within conflict. 


This correlates with passion, a better sex life and romance.



how to keep relationships strong photo


Importance of emotional intelligence


Both partners need to be able be in influenced by the other. If one partner rejects the others influence and needs to always win, the result will be a standstill.


Emotional intelligence is necessary because both need to care about their partners emotions by


  • Showing respect
  • Listening
  • Validating the others perspective (without necessarily agreeing)
  • Expressing empathy


This doesn’t mean that you have to be overly accommodating but your partner needs to feel heard and understood. 


Make your commitment to your partner stronger than your commitment to winning.


So here is something very interesting from the studies, the MOST important factor in staying together is the WILL to stay in the relationship.


That means that  being alike is not as important as the determination that both partners have in keeping the relationship healthy.


 Choosing to stay committed and managing conflict in a healthy way is paramount. Couples that focus on creating something meaningful together also find their purpose together. 


Your partner needs to support your life’s dreams and accept you for who you are today, not in the future.


According to Dr. Gottman, “Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage.”


things we do that lead to breakups photo


Conclusion- Ways to keep a relationship strong


  • Couples need to be mindful of their partner’s bids for connection and  to engage with them. This will make them feel heard and valued. 
  • Be aware, be grateful and appreciate your partner daily (small things.)
  • Talk about your stresses.
  • Be understanding & physical.
  • Communicate with your partner about your hopes, aspirations, and life goals.


No one is perfect and it takes practice to break old habits. The goal is to get better by being aware of these signals and treating your partner the way that you want to be treated.


If you practice these skills you will see how you can create a strong relationship that is  truly successful, happy and healthy.


Read more about Relationship Goals

More Relationship Articles


Further reading from Dr. Gottman


The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert


The Man’s Guide to Women: Scientifically Proven Secrets from the Love Lab About What Women Really Want

The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples

The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships


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