According to research over the last four decades, while there's many behaviors that predict success in a couple relationship, those behaviors can be grouped into two different categories:
1) How couples handle their differences (ie: Conflict regulation)
2) How strong the couples friendship is
Previous to this research, people assumed that the way to a happy relationship was to learn how to resolve conflict. Therefore, much emphasis was placed on couples to learn good communication skills, rules of fair fighting, and techniques such as
"active listening" and "I statements".
While it's true that learning skills to manage your differences is important,
thankfully this skill alone will not save your relationship. After all, you
don't want to stay married to someone only because you're good at
resolving problems together, do you?
Thanks to this new research, we understand the importance of not only learning good conflict management skills, but also of keeping the friendship alive. After all, most people fell in love with their partner because they had fun with them, enjoyed their personality, and found good qualities in them, not because they were good at resolving conflict!
Interestingly enough, when researchers evaluate the two areas, it's found that couples who do a good job at keeping their friendship alive automatically do a better job at managing their differences.
It's not that the skills of conflict regulation aren't important, but that couples who keep their friendship strong have an easier time actually using the skills. They tend to be more tolerant of their partners differences, are more willing to accept each others ideas, and when conflict does issues come up, they bring them up in a softer, less damaging way.
After all, no matter how hard it is to admit, we naturally treat our friends
better than our enemies.
What does all this mean for couples who want to be happy?
If you want to strengthen your relationship, and have an easier time managing
your differences, one great step is to start strengthening your friendship.