Not all is fair in love and war but it helps!
In today's society, over 50% of marriages end in divorce. Trends and rates of divorce have consistently risen in the last few decades, but why? Are we not trying hard enough? Has online dating led to less stable relationships? Are we choosier? Are people spending too much time in work or on the internet reading blogs?!
Psychologists have spent years working on why these trends have appeared and unfortunately, there is no one solid answer. So, with my love of pivoting, what I am focussing on today is not the 'why' of divorce but how we can improve the positive aspects of our relationships.
Relationship breakdowns are terrible and painful experiences we have all been through in some part of our lives, whether it is a short-term boyfriend or a long-term marriage. I myself have had both so know from experience that they are horrible.
In some situations like toxic, abusive or unhealthy relationships, it is vitally important that they end for the good of our mental and physical health. As a psychology teacher as well as an empowerment coach, I think it’s amazing that in schools now we don't just teach about sex education but also how to understand and recognise healthy and unhealthy relationships which will hopefully forearm our students and children against suffering these terrible situations in the future.
However, sometimes we are in a good relationship but are having a few niggling problems and that is the type of relationship I am going to focus on today. Martin Seligman has highlighted the huge impact relationships can have on our emotional health and well-being, as I described in my article 'The positive power of PERMA'.
Research into happiness has shown that when couples get married they are happiest around the time of the wedding but quickly return to their baseline levels afterwards (sometimes as quickly as a month!) The average time was two years, so how can we increase our levels of relationship happiness?
One of my favourite theories comes from John Stacey Adams who developed the equity theory of relationships. This is a wonderful theory as you can apply it to all relationships such as romantic couples, friends and colleagues! He believed that our overall happiness and satisfaction from a relationship lies in what we put in and what we get out of it (easy right?) Wrong! It may be easy if both parties are equal but when they are not, it can cause many issues such as:
- Those who put in more than they get out (under-benefitted) can become bitter, stressed frustrated and angry with their partner.
- Those who get more out than they put in (over-benefitted) develop feelings of guilt, shame and depression.
A study, conducted by Stafford and Canary (2006), looked at over 200 married couples who completed questionnaires on relationship equity and satisfaction, as well as the ways they maintained their relationships, such as by dividing chores, communicating positively and showing affection for one another. They found that partners who perceived their relationships as fair and balanced, followed by spouses who were over-benefitted from the relationships, experienced the most satisfaction. Those who under-benefitted showed the lowest levels of satisfaction.
So how can we resolve this? By using this theory, Hatfield and Rapson developed techniques that aimed to restore equity during marriage and relationship coaching or counselling. This is aimed at restoring or rebalancing inequity. Firstly individuals are asked to calmly express their satisfaction with their marriage. This can lead to an understanding of where the inequity lies whether it is with themselves or their partner or both. Depending on the situation strategies are then put in place in order to rebalance the equity.
So, for example, if you are feeling under-benefitted in your relationship with a friend such as feeling you make all of the effort to arrange opportunities to spend time together, don't bottle it up, feel bitter and end up arguing. Try this technique by speaking to your friend and explaining how you feel calmly. Then you can reassess the situation and make small changes such as asking them to book the cinema and choose the film next time you go out. It is often the case that they didn’t even realise you were being affected by the situation and may seem like a small change but it can lead to a big difference!
If you feel over-benefitted, this can often stem from ill health or reliance on your partner. For example, if one person works long hours in order to pay the mortgage and bills as their partner has been in an accident, broken their leg and can not work for several weeks. This situation can’t be changed but equality is fluid and adaptive so maybe there are other things you could do to rebalance it.
Firstly, speak to your partner and explain how you feel and ask if there is anything you could do for them such as organise a birthday card and present from you both or do a chore you have both been putting off such as booking the car in for its MOT! Maybe arrange a romantic date night or even just a takeaway on Friday when the kids are in bed. Small acts of kindness, compassion and appreciation make a big difference!
So go on and give it a try and let me know how you get on! If you would like any advice on using these or any other technique please do not hesitate in contacting me. I offer in-person sessions in Rayleigh in Essex or online appointments as well as a free 30-minute consultation so we can discuss which programme is best suited to you and your emotional health needs and goals. These can be booked here or through my website www.rosslynwhellams.co.uk