Types of Happy Couples

When couples call me for marriage counseling they often site the reason as ‘communication problems’. I’ve heard this hundreds of times as a family therapist. This phrase has come to be a catch phrase for many different issues – known or unknown to couples. As I do therapy with these couples in my Provo counseling center, I often find that these couples actually communicate very well, but have not built the positive connections that successful couples have. There is more to marriage therapy, then, than just helping couples ‘communicate well’. Simply learning how to do reflective listening, or practicing ‘I statements’ is not sound couples counseling. John Gottman, a renowned marriage researcher, has devoted his professional life to understanding what makes some marriages work, while others fail. I will be outlining much of his incredible work in the coming months along with anecdotal evidence that it works.

Dr. Gottman’s proposes that there are three types of happy, stable couples: volatile, conflict-avoiding and validating. Each approach is right and works! This is if couples are able to maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. This is the ratio that Dr. Gottman has found to be important to maintain for successful couples.

The volatile couple can be heated, passionate, emotionally expressive and loud. They can call each other out and disagree. They are direct and don’t beat around the bush. This isn’t bad! These couples also show a lot of humor, affection and interest in each other and have been found to be the type of couple that stay romantic after years of being together.

The validating couple will engage in emotional expressiveness to a certain degree and only around main issues. They emphasize the togetherness and partnership of their marriage and strive to honor each other. They might start an argument softly by validating the others point of view and perspective.

The conflict-avoidant couple will often ‘agree to disagree’. They will never, or at least rarely, say to their partner that they are wrong and that they disagree with them. This types of confrontation is uncomfortable for them and they avoid it. They emphasize their strengths as a couple, their commitment to each other, solidarity and philosophical optimism.

Which couple are you? No matter which category you fall in, you can still have a happy and successful marriage. I have done counseling with many couples who fall in each of those three categories. If you have concerns that it’s not working for you and your partner, call me to see if therapy is right for you.

Here’s to happy marriages!

Triston Morgan, PhD LMFT

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