“Irreconcilable differences” may be the most cited reason for divorce, but the idea that major differences in opinion end long-term relationships is actually a myth. Psychologist John Gottman has spent the past 40 years researching what actually makes love work, should be more common knowledge than not.
Essentially, it’s not a difference of opinion that end relationships, it’s the inability to communicate differing opinions or accept them as equally valid. It’s also the fact that most people project what they want their partner to be onto who they really are, and then become frustrated and eventually dismissive when they don’t live up to those projections. (It’s a matter of self-worth at the end of the day, we feel other people judge us based on our choice of partner, so our inherent sense of worthiness gets attached to who and how they are).
Here are five of the main points that Gottman argues, or in other words, a few signs you’re in a relationship that will last, according to psychology:
1. You begin conversations – especially sensitive ones – as kindly and gently as you would an acquaintance or esteemed co-worker.
When interactions begin with criticism, sarcasm, contempt, anger or blame, defenses rise and the ability to communicate dissolves. But the root of doing so is the inherent belief that your partner is “beneath you” as opposed to a true equal. (When you believe someone is your “equal” you regard them as well as you’d want to be regarded yourself.)
2. You don’t criticize (which is to present evidence for change) but you do complain (which is to communicate that you’re unhappy with something in a less demeaning way).
You can whine and moan for hours on end about the dishes not being done or too much money being spent this month, but as soon as it shifts from “I’m upset that this is going this way” to “You’re lazy/stupid/irresponsible/disgusting because you let this happen,” you’re headed for trouble.
3. Neither party is contemptuous, not only to one another, but to other people in general.
Mocking, sneering, name-calling… the bullying tactics used in middle school are frighteningly common in intimate relationships, but not in the ones that last. In other words: you fight clean. You are not the kind of person who would resort to that type of mentality to begin with.
4. You‘re willing to absorb blame, as you recognize that all problems require two parties to create.
You’re not inherently defensive, nor determined to show the other person how and why they are wrong. You approach issues with “here’s how we got into this, and here’s how I’d like us to get out.”
5. Nobody is “stonewalled,” or, in other words, ignored or “tuned out.”
Gottman’s research shows that in 85% of marriages, men “stonewall” their partners, and the reason for this is most likely that the male cardiovascular system recovers from stress more slowly. Women are more capable of soothing themselves in stressful situations, so they aren’t indignant or standoffish about confrontation.