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Be inspired every day with Living North
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Health and beauty
February 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

Living North columnist Dr Maurice Duffy explains why showing love and respect is so important in a relationship, and how, if allowed to run rampant, negative interactions can be terminal to any relationship

You know I love Dr John Gottman's work on relationships. Gottman is an American psychologist, and Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington. And he's also the guy that can predict divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.

His life’s work on marital stability and relationship prediction is very robust and world-renowned. It is featured in one of my all-time favourite books, the #1 bestseller Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and during my work I got to meet Gottman and learnt a little about his 30 years of research.

We all know that throughout our lives various types of relationships will come and go. We all understand that there will be life-changing romances and great friendships that last a lifetime, and also toxic relationships, painful breakups, and grief after we fall in and out of love and lose friendships.

However, if we want to nurture and grow our relationships then there are some very important principals we must adhere to.

In his fascinating book called ‘The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work’, Gottman explains his research. He shows that various types of negative interactions can develop within relationships and if allowed to run rampant, they can be terminal to the relationship. Gottman refers to them as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and they are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

Read More: Relationship Advice: Why Won't My Partner Listen to My Needs?

‘There are some small things that each of
us can try to help oxygenate the flames of love’

2 hands holiday black paper heart Unsplash

Dr Gottman discovered a formula he believes is provable and reliable on how relationships disintegrate. His research with thousands of couples shows that to make your relationship successful and sustainable, you must ensure that there are five times more positive, loving interactions than negative, painful interactions between you and your partner.

If you don’t adhere to this formula then serious unhappiness ensues because his research shows that if you dip toward the 1:1 ratio consistently, you’re likely to end in break-up/divorce.

Gottman and his team can watch a couple discuss a problem or conflict for only a few minutes and predict with eerie accuracy if they’ll eventually end in a breakup or divorce. It is fascinating to watch his work and scary to see his predictions.

Too often in my work I find we focus on the wrong things. We fail to understand that every relationship needs work and yes it can be hard but so worthwhile because when negative interactions outweigh positive ones breakup is on the horizon.

Now no one said relationships are easy, yet treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt that will do damage to any relationship. Using hostile humour, name-calling, mimicking, and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering are also toxic and destructive in any relationship.

In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr John Gottman notes: ‘When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship, you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities, at least while you’re feeling upset. You can’t remember a single positive quality or act. This immediate decay of admiration is an important reason why contempt ought to be banned from marital interactions.’

Read More: Dr Maurice Duffy Explains Why it’s Important to be Honest With Yourself and With Others

So, what can we do?

Now every holiday provides us with an opportunity to reset our relationships and to take time out and acknowledge people who are important to us.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day 2023, we should use it as a reminder to make the ones we love a priority in our daily lives.

Valentine’s Day seems to be one of those days that people either really love or truly hate and I am going to suggest to you this year, 2023, is the right time to re-examine your priorities. Take a helicopter tour of your relationship and deep dive into how you can make it more loving, more interesting, and much more sustainable by energising the positive and reducing the negativity.

Whilst some of the greatest pressures on our relationships can’t be solved overnight, there are some small things that each of us can try to help oxygenate the flames of love.

Here are some useful suggestions for re-igniting your relationship:

Body listen. Show your partner that you listen. Not with passive acknowledgements but with some meaningful questions and then by really listening to the answers. Don’t just nod behind the newspaper or in the middle of a TV programme but put the paper down, pause the TV and make real eye contact and fully engage.

Be thankful. Remember what you were enthralled by when you met your partner first. Remember how you did things for each other. Compliment your partner, show that you appreciate them and for everything you give, especially of yourself, love will always find a way back.

Don’t be a psychic vampire in the relationship. Remember the magic formula 5:1 positivity to negativity. Do not suck your partner dry with negative comments.

Act and speak your love. Do thoughtful things without constantly looking for thanks. Speak your love.

Be accepting. Don’t judge harshly and remember it’s our imperfections that make us beautiful.

Have me time. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognise each other, to learn to see the other and honour them for what they are. Give each other space and spend some time on ‘me’ rather than ‘we’.

Take some risks. At the beginning of a relationship, everything is a novelty. You can recreate that by taking risk in what you do together. Shake things up however you can – learn a new hobby together, expand your social circle, or try a different position in bed. Whatever works for you!

Successful relationships need nurturing and attention. There are no quick fixes. Successful relationships have a balance between positive and negative feelings and actions between partners. This Valentine season ask yourself – am I showing good and positive respect to this relationship? Can I turbo boost the positivity more? Because if you can, the relationship will bring you more and more happiness. It’s a difficult time for us all, so I ask can we ‘love’ one another more.

People who love each other fully and truly are the happiest people in the world. Let’s go for happiness through positivity this Valentine season.

Dr Maurice Duffy is Visiting Professor at Sunderland, consulting coach to the NHS, the Australian cricket team, Durham Cricket Club, international golfers, rugby and many sports people, and also coaches many senior FTSE 100 business leaders and politicians around the world. Find out more at or follow him on twitter @thebeaksquawks

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