Is This Relationship Right? 10 Relationship Questions to Help You Decide “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
These are just suggested questions based on research about relationship quality. Matters of the heart are complicated.
1. When we are argue, do either of us express contempt?
Contempt is basically the biggest predictor of divorce for married couples.
The definition of contempt (in relationships science) is that goes beyond other forms of criticism. It involves hostility. Examples of contempt include: Phrases like “You’re nuts.” Nonverbal behaviors like rolling eyes, sneering. Putdowns, insults, name calling, yelling and screaming, mocking, sarcasm, ridiculing, and hurtful teasing.
2. Do we have a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction? If not, could we work towards this ratio?
When relationships go bad, it is typically the positive interactions that decrease first, and then the negative interactions increase. Happy couples typically have a ratio of at least 5:1 positive interactions to negative interactions. Couples who are about to divorce have a ratio more like 1:1.
You can restore a 5:1 ratio if you’re committed to working at your relationship and your relationship has other strengths. If you’d like to try increasing the positive interactions in your relationship in an easy way, try this fun way of boosting positive interactions.
3. Does your partner support you when things go right for you?
Research has shown that support when things go right (e.g., when your partner has successes) is at least as predictive of relationship quality as support for things that go wrong.
4. Can we repair our positive bond after arguments and tension?
In a lot of cases this will be just reaching out for connection in some way, such as acknowledging your partner’s valid points or using humor.
After particularly destructive arguments, can you “claim your own moves” that contributed to your “dance of disconnection?”
For example, Partner 1 gets overwhelmed and tries to escape during an argument by going to another room, Partner 2 chases Partner 1 to the other room, and Partner 1 attacks and gets nasty.
The categories involved in the dance of disconnection are:
- Pursuing or demanding behavior
- Attacking (Contempt or criticism, which includes using phrases like “You always” “You never” “You should,” and attacking your partner’s personality).
- Withdrawing (including stonewalling, refusing to engage, and defensiveness)
Lots more info Demand – Pursue – Attack – Withdraw
5. Do I have a positive global view of my partner as a person, even if some things annoy me?
For example, I think they’re generally reliable, trustworthy, supportive, considerate, kind etc, even though there are some things they do that are not consistent with this.
6. Is my partner emotionally withdrawn?
Do I feel lonely or shut out in the relationship? Can I connect emotionally? Does s/he express their deepest emotions and allow me to get close?
7. Is my partner emotionally responsive to me?
When I signal that I need connection, does my partner respond or does s/he ignore me? Do I know that I’m important to my partner?
Can I take emotional risks with my partner? Can I open up about my feelings, anxieties etc and trust that my partner will care about my feelings, even if they don’t always get the response right?
8. Can I live with our “gridlock problems?”
Even in happy relationships, 70% of problems are gridlock problems that never get solved. To be happy, couples need to figure out how to be happy while these problems still exist. Some degree of compromise can be achieved, but the research shows that there usually needs to be a degree of acceptance and tolerance as well.
Can you and your partner compromise on the big stuff if necessary – like where to live and how many children to have?
9. Does my partner allow me to influence him/her, and vice versa?
Does my partner sometimes change his/her perspective because of my influence? For example, changes his/her thoughts based on a point I make, or is willing to try things I suggest. Or, you explore some of each other’s interests/hobbies/tastes and preferences.
Do I let my partner influence me? Do I sometimes change my perspective because of his/her influence?
Allowing influence shows you respect each other’s opinions and have psychological flexibility.
10. Does my partner do things that undermine my fundamental physical or emotional security?
e.g., Violence, repeated cheating, spending money in a way that jeopardizes our security.
Also includes some of the specific things already mentioned, such as being emotionally withdrawn or unsupportive.
What If My Answers Were Negative?
How to Work on Your Relationship
If your answers to 3 or more questions were negative and you would like to try increasing the positive interactions in your relationship in an easy way, try this fun way of boosting positive interactions.
You can turn around problems through couples therapy, if you’re motivated to do that. Choose a couples therapist who is familiar with the research on which types of couples therapy work best. I recommend Emotion Focused Therapy, which has been shown to help even very unhappy couples. Try this if you have lots of negative answers to the above questions but you both want to work on your relationship. There are also other good couples therapies like Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy (IBCT).
In the meantime, I challenge you try to boosting your positive interactions in 30 seconds a day.
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