Is Your Relationship Sinking?

Kristen M. Pratt

Serious sparks flew when Mandy met Josh at a club while both were celebrating spring break in Hawaii. 

“It was an instant attraction -- my face flushed and my heart started racing,” Mandy remembers. With Mandy attending University of Colorado in Boulder, and Josh at Denver University, their spring fling turned into a full-fledged relationship when they returned home.

But six months later, the sparks had definitely lost their flame. “We fight constantly about everything; I don’t know how much longer I can take this,” Josh states flatly.

All relationships go through the love at first sight bit where both are goo-goo eyed and sickeningly cute in front of their friends. But eventually, reality sets in: relationships take work. How do you know when a relationship is no longer worth the work?

William L. Wallace, Ph.D., a psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif, who’s been counseling couples for the past 35 years, says, “If you’re going to establish an enduring relationship, once the novelty and the infatuation wears off, then you must have a foundation of common value, common understanding, common goals, and common etiquette in a relationship.

Know the Rules
Think of relationship etiquette as the ground rules for how you treat each other -- hopefully with dignity, respect and compassion. If you don’t have those rules, then you end up with what John M. Gottman, author of The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, calls the four deadly sins in the relationship: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.”

Compatibility is key. If you don’t agree on at least 50% of issues like communication, personality, conflict resolution, time management, how you use your free time, financial management, and sexuality, Wallace says, you may be in for a rocky road.

“One of the problems is if you are basically functioning on passion, infatuation, and falling in love, then there’s not a lot of rationality going on and it’s like you’re on a roller coaster ride. As a general rule, the more compatible you are, the more likely you will have a successful relationship. One of the problems with couples is that they are often attracted and intrigued by opposites. Unfortunately, the opposite that was attractive to you from the onset becomes very grating later on in the relationship. ‘Opposites attract’ is not a good idea -- garbage attracts flies, that’s not a good connection.”

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