How do successful couples create consistent emotional closeness, enduring patterns of love and intimacy? We have learned a lot from the Gottman research about what works in happy relationships, and we know what reliably predicts distressed relationships. It turns out that it isn’t that complicated if we break it down to it’s simplest form. But first, let’s look at some myths about what creates a close, intimate relationship.
Myths of Relationship Stability and Happiness
What Does Predict Intimacy and Closeness?
The core concept revolves around what Drs. Julie and John Gottman call the “smallest units of intimacy”, when partners respond positively to the moments that can come and go in a blink of an
eye. What do successful couples talk about? It does not matter most of the time what is talked about, it is how couples talk that predicts good or bad outcomes.
When a partner is trying to connect, for any reason, if the response is one of kindness, acknowledgement and consideration, that is called “Turning Toward”, a term that describes a moment of connection. If there is a consistent positive response, the cumulative impact of those turning toward moments leads to increased safety, trust, and emotional connection. The research indicates that happy couples respond positively to these moments 86% of the time. Distressed couples respond positively only about 33% of the time.
Years ago, I worked with a couple complaining about the lack of emotional connection and the uncomfortable level of conflict. They wanted to address the conflict issues and felt it was about their communication problems and assumed their emotional connection would get better with better conflict management skills. I shared the research emphasizing the importance of small, daily interactions that over time create closeness. One of the partners had a hard time with that concept, emphasizing his belief that they just needed to get the issues on the table and talk them out. While that sounds like a reasonable approach, it was problematic. What was missing was basic trust and neither feeling accepted or respected. There absolutely is a direct connection between positivity in the relationship, and the ability to manage conflict. Putting in place good conflict management skills along with treating each other gently and with respect is a powerful combination for intimacy.