Resilient Relationships

Couple drinking coffee building a love that last through resilient relationships

Can resilience play a role in relationships?

The answer is …YES! In fact, resilient relationships can overcome adversity. They create an environment that encourages lasting love, camaraderie, and appreciation for one another despite challenges. There are many facets to these types of relationships, the most important being communication.

Constructive communication is essential in bad times, as well as the good.

  •  We all know we are not supposed to react when we are angry but what about how we react when times are good? Surprisingly, our response in good times is possibly even a more crucial predictor of whether a relationship is resilient or not, and will be a love that lasts. When a friend or family member has some news to share, we want to be sure we listen attentively, encourage sincerely, and respond eagerly. This type of communication is called Active Constructive Responding and has proven to be critical to healthy relationships.

In 1986 John Gottman and Robert Levenson established "The Love Lab" to study how newlyweds interacted.

  • The couples' blood pressure, heart rates, and sweat were measured throughout their interactions together. Then they were sent home. Six years later, the couples were brought back to “The Love Lab” and divided into two groups, a happily married group and a group of unhappy or separated couples. Noticing specific physiological differences between the two groups, Gottman continued his research for over 40 years. A longitudinal study showed that the couples who purposely created a culture of respect and appreciation by showing constant interest in one another were happier and had successful relationships
  • They were each other's biggest fan, communicating excitement over the little and big things. Essentially, kindness served as the glue that held their marriages together.

More recently, Shelly Gable and her colleagues studied how partners responded to hearing each other's good news.

  • Generally, they found four patterns of responses. She labeled them active destructive, passive destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.

During an active destructive response, partners respond with criticism, changing the subject, or reacting with silence to positive news. Active destructive responses consist of some type of attack on the other's opinions or thoughts, deflating the partner's enthusiasm. Passive Constructive responses include half-hearted congratulatory responses, typically changing or dropping the subject quickly. Lastly, active constructive responding involves wholehearted engagement with your partner's excitement or pleasure. 

  • This last method, active constructive responding, is clearly the most nurturing to a healthy relationship. The couple using this method has a shared joy and bonding experience due to their invested interest in one another. The Gottmans would describe active constructive responding as “turning toward” the bids of your partner instead of “turning away” from them.

It is vital to support the significant relationships in your life during times of trouble, but don't forget to celebrate the positive as well. As simple as it seems…kindness just might save your marriage.

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