Have you ever thought about the Relationship Thermostat?
The secret to keeping things comfortable is to address the uncomfortable issues that pull you two apart.
Longitudinal research on newlywed couples discovered that stable and happy couples are more responsive to slight changes in negativity than ailing marriages.
It’s like every relationship has a connection thermostat that signals how well the relationship is doing. Ideally, you want to find that balance between hot and cold so you can feel secure, connected, and cherished.
The problem is, like a house, the thermostat is bound to change from time-to-time based on what happens on the outside. Every relationship is going to feel hot or cold.
The more sensitive you are to the emotional temperature changes and work together to return to the comfort zone of connection, the better chance your relationship has at staying positive and healthy.
The relationship thermostat
In my relationship, my thermostat has a burning point of volcanic anger and a freezing point of ice-cold distance and indifference. When I am too hot, I am critical, defensive, and contemptuous. I become emotionally flooded and say things I don’t believe about my partner and our relationship. It’s like my body is on fire and if my partner gets closer, I’ll burn her.
When I am too cold, I preoccupy myself with work and offer less spontaneous acts of affection throughout the day. I ask less questions and keep to myself more. And when my partner expresses something, I am less engaged. At my freezing point, I appear apathetic when she is hurting. That is not the partner she needs in those painful moments.
My spouse has her own hot and cold points, but with different behaviors.
Luckily for us, we rarely get to these extremes because those temperature points are difficult and painful.
One of the hard lessons we had to learn to keep our emotional connection temperature at a more loving level was the importance of addressing things earlier.
The secret of stable relationships: Address things early
This knowledge came from Dr. Gottman’s research, “In marriages that wind up happy and stable, newlywed [spouses] notice lower levels of negativity…In other marriages, [spouses] adapt to and try to accept this negativity, setting their threshold for response at a much higher (more negative) level.”
In relationships that struggle, there is a tendency to tolerate a hotter or colder connection temperature. Dr. Gottman shares, “It’s as if they are saying to themselves, ‘Just ignore this negativity. Don’t respond to it unless it gets much worse.’ Our research shows that this kind of adaptation to negativity is dysfunctional.”
Dr. Gottman goes on to say that, when partners adapt to hotter or colder connection temperatures, it also increases their “threshold” for determining when things are problematic. This means that those partners will feel like help is not needed since they’ve increased the acceptable range of negativity.
A great place to start in order to understand your emotions, your partner’s emotions, and the best way to navigate those within your relationship is by creating a map of emotions together.
Start Mapping Emotions Together
In my relationship, I like to imagine our thermostat is like our home’s thermostat. If we get emotionally hotter than 73 or colder than 68, that is a cue that we need to readjust our thermostat and reconnect.
Essentially Dr. Gottman’s research indicates that healthy couples are more nuanced to changes in the emotional connection. Most importantly, they see the change in relational temperature as a cue to check-in with their partner or open up. They turn towards one another.
Practical tools to reset your relationship’s thermostat
When the temperature in your relationship is uncomfortable, that is a cue that a repair is needed to reset at a more connecting level.
2: Discuss Cues of Your Relationship’s Thermostat
It’s helpful to start with discussing what the relationship feels like when things are going well. Talk about how it feels in your body, the thoughts you have, as well as how you engage one another. In my marriage this includes more humor, physical affection, and a felt sense of being understood when discussing an issue. Outside of conflict, there are lots of positive interactions, and during conflict, we are probably close to the magic 5:1 ratio since we tend to use speaker-listener roles. Then talk about how you think you two get to this place and what helps keep this temperature. Discuss Disconnection Cues: Use Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s “Relationship Poop Detector” to determine cues that your relationship’s temperature is too hot or too cold. This includes the Four Horsemen, feeling distant and isolated, or not being affectionate and intimate. The more awareness you have of what pulls you apart, the easier it will be to say, “oh no, we are too hot. Can we talk and reset our temperature please?”
3: The Conflict Toolkit
Sit-down together and dialogue about what’s changed the thermostat using conflict blueprints: To prevent negativity from making things too hot or cold, use the Gottman Conflict Blueprints such as the Gottman-Rapoport and The Aftermath of a Fight.
As a speaker, remember to help your partner understand your side and give them a recipe to be successful with you.
As the listener, remember to soothe yourself so you can hear your partner and seek to understand before problem-solving.
4: Proactively Check Your Relationship’s Temperature:
Instead of waiting until your relationship is sweating with negativity or shivering from a cold loneliness, proactively check each other’s emotional temperature daily, “How are we doing today from your perspective? What’s going well? What is something we can do better?”
Finally, do not wait more than 3 days to address an issue that is making the relationship too hot or too cold. The secret to keeping things comfortable is to address the uncomfortable issues that pull you two apart.
In the Coronavirus era, many couples have been confronted by an all-new dichotomy. We are home more often and physically closer than ever before, but we’re simultaneously drawn inward and experiencing an increased sense of disconnection. When live-in partners are compelled by our current circumstances to spend nearly all of their time together, numerous unexpected & seemingly contradictory challenges arise.
Communicating love and admiration to your partner is a hallmark of any relationship, yet after some time and dealing with the stresses of day-to-day life, you might find that positive communication diminishes. This includes telling your partner that you love them. These comments start to fade in frequency. You may not express gratitude for your partner aloud because it may not come naturally. Instead, you make a big deal over trivial issues and miss the big picture.
One effective way to increase positive communication and to learn more about your partner is to ask open-ended questions. For instance, I often advise couples to ask their partner questions such as, “What was it like at work today?” This query can elicit more conversation than “Did you have a good day?”
According to Dr. John Gottman, posing questions that require no more than a yes or no can kill a conversation, whereas open-ended questions such as “What did you like best about the movie?” require a deeper response that can enhance conversation.
Ultimately, these broadly relatable questions serve as a tool for partners trying to be more active in taking an emotional interest in their loved one. And in these trying, unprecedented times, it seems the positive results of such inquiry will provide a counterbalance to the strife, uncertainty, and stress that we’re all living with.
Here are four more questions to ask your partner (and for them to ask you) to increase intimacy
1. What’s one thing you think could improve our relationship?
2. What are two things you like about the way I communicate with you?
3. What are two things you would like to see me change about how I communicate with you?
4. How would you prefer we spend our free time together this weekend?
Sometimes couples are so absorbed in their problems that they forget to see their partner as a person. You can strengthen your relationship by learning more about your partner and discussing their thoughts and feelings. If you try to answer the above questions about your partner first and then compare answers (or interview each other), you are on the path to building authentic love and improving the quality of your partnership. The following points can help you attain closeness with your partner on a daily basis.
8 strategies for increasing communication and creating loving intimacy
Communication affects how safe and secure you feel in your relationships as well as your level of intimacy. Since communication and intimacy are connected, take time every day to really listen to your partner and have the courage to ask open-ended questions (rather than making assumptions) to make sure you understand them. Over time, you will find that you will feel closer, argue less, and feel more satisfied in your relationship.
Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Difficult conversations can lead to flooding. Here are steps to remain calm while staying present for yourself and your partner.
A few small actions carry surprising power in building a lasting relationship.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Jessica one day. Through her sobs, she said, “He worked so hard for a year to take us on that amazing vacation to Hawaii. But all I really wanted was for him to put his arm around me at church!”
Huh? Do you think in the midst of all her pain that she was thinking clearly? Actually, I do.
I could fill in lots of other details, but ultimately the pattern is a sadly common one. You may have seen it too. Daniel was a godly, well-intentioned husband who showed his love in several ways, including working long hours to provide for his family and to do nice things for them. You see, for him, providing is love.
Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that what he was working so hard for wasn’t what Jessica most needed—and in some ways was actually robbing her of the closeness she needed the most. (And of course there were ways she didn’t know she was hurting him.) What she needed most, more than all the expensive vacations in the world, were a few simple, specific day-to-day actions.
But as simple as loving gestures in public? you wonder.
Yes! My research on happy couples showed that an extraordinarily high percentage of them were (often without realizing it!) doing a few little specific actions that were making their spouses feel deeply cared for. Jessica, as it turns out, is like nearly all other men and women in her deep rooted desire for these surprisingly meaningful gestures.
Clearly, a few small actions won’t fix deep relationship problems. But for most of us, a handful of simple day-to-day actions increase the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t. There’s just enormous power in that!
For nearly every man or woman, the same few small, gender-specific actions not only matter but have a huge impact on a couple’s level of happiness. But these little actions take on even more power when accompanied by those that matter to your spouse individually.
Let’s begin with the few small actions that the surveys indicate matter a lot to almost every man or woman—what we might call the Fantastic Five.
When individuals were asked on the survey if a particular action made them happy, the affirmative response numbers were staggeringly high for five specific actions for each gender, even among the struggling couples. Close to 100 percent of all husbands and wives said these actions mattered, with between 65 and 90 percent of all husbands and wives saying these actions would deeply please them.
In other words, you are very likely to make your spouse feel deeply cared for if you make a habit of doing the same five things consistently.
A wife will have a big impact on her husband’s happiness when she does the following:
1. Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. (For example, she says, “Thank you for mowing the lawn even though it was so hot outside.” Or, “Thanks for playing with the kids, even when you were so tired from work.”) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.
2. Says “You did a great job at __________.” This deeply pleases 69 percent of all men.
3. Mentions in front of others something he did well. This deeply pleases 72 percent of all men.
4. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. This deeply pleases 85 percent of all men.
5. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. (For example, she expresses appreciation for something he did for her with a smile, words, a big hug, etc.) This deeply pleases 88 percent of all men.
On his side, a husband will have a big impact on his wife when he does the following:
1. Takes her hand. (For example, when walking through a parking lot or sitting together at the movies.) This deeply pleases 82 percent of all women.
2. Leaves her a message by voice mail, e-mail, or text during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. This deeply pleases 75 percent of all women.
3. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public (at church, at a restaurant with friends, etc.). This deeply pleases 74 percent of all women.
4. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” This deeply pleases 76 percent of all women.
5. Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something, instead of withdrawing. (This doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry or need space; it means he tries to pull himself out of it.) This deeply pleases 72 percent of all women.
Did you notice that all these happiness-inducing actions are simple, learnable, and doable by any wife or any husband? If you put each of the five biggest little things to work every day, I’m betting your marriage will improve—in some cases, radically.
And here’s more great news: All these small but powerful actions matter regardless of what the person’s love language is. For example, most wives (82 percent) are affected when her husband reaches out and takes her hand, regardless of whether physical touch is her thing.
There’s no looking back for our friends Jessica and Daniel. But I’m so thankful that God is good. He is always at work to redeem our broken hearts—and I know He’ll do it for our friends. Still, a corner of my heart mourns the heartbreak that might have been prevented if they had truly understood the power of doing these best little things.
We all know that small, thoughtful acts are not a magic cure-all for every marriage problem. But having talked to so many who nurtured much happiness with simple but powerful actions, I know all of us can build that all-important foundation that helps us believe that our mate notices and cares.
Because as it turns out, believing that the other person cares is far more important to building a happy marriage than most of us ever realized.