Photo by Crew, Wikimedia Commons

Why do some relationships work and others don’t?

From a “magic ratio” to avoiding the “four horsemen,” here are tips on having a happy, healthy relationship.

Relationships are a tricky matter. Sure, it’s a magical feeling, falling in love, but as a relationship progresses, the more complex it becomes and the more it needs effort from both parties. 

If only there were a foolproof manual on how to make relationships work. There isn’t, but at least we have experts and studies to turn to should we find ourselves in a confounding situation with our romantic partner. 

It’s a magical feeling, falling in love, but as a relationship progresses, the more complex it becomes. Photo by Stokpic, Wikimedia Commons

Why do breakups happen?

First, let’s look into why relationships break down.

In an interview with The Post, science-based dating coach Vanessa Antonio, more popularly known as Coach Vee, said that relationships last and some don’t because of “people’s character.” 

“There are people whose characters are very fit for relationships while other people are better off operating alone,” she explained. 

“Example is a constant need for a high degree of adventure in life. People who are always chasing dopamine hardly get satisfaction in monogamous relationships.” 

This echoes what Dr. Andrea Bonoir, expert advice columnist of The Washington Post, said in an article: “Perhaps you are picking people where there’s just physical spark and not true compatibility, leading to fundamental differences in day-to-day life starting to grate after a while.” 

Coach Vee, who is a US-certified matchmaker, added that breakups happen when the disadvantages outweigh the benefits of being in the relationship. 

Inspired by the studies of Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington, a foremost expert on couples, Coach Vee said every time you have one bad memory as a couple, whether you’re dating or married, “kailangan siyang tapatan ng five good memories.”

She said the ratio should be 1:5—one negative experience to five positive ones, adding that if the ratio becomes 1:1 or 1:2, the relationship will be “very prone” to breaking up. 

An article on Psychology Today summed them up into 10 factors. Aside from compatibility issues, top breakup reasons include: trust and money issues, differences in expectations and priorities, moving through life at different speeds, narcissism, relational and life habit abuse, and boredom/growing apart. 

Why do relationships last?

Now that we know the usual reasons behind couples breaking up, let’s look into the opposite side of the spectrum—why are there relationships that stand the test of time?

For Coach Vee, who is the founder of the dating company Singles Events Manila, most relationships last because of the partners’ willingness to sacrifice for each other.

“It is the ultimate measure of love,” she asserted. “That’s why when someone suppresses their urge to cheat or mate with another person, or they try to control bad habits such as alcoholism or drug addiction, that person genuinely loves you.”

Married couple in a long relationship
For Coach Vee, most relationships last because of the partners’ willingness to sacrifice for each other. Photo from South Agency/Getty Images

An article on the official New York state website attributed strong, healthy relationships to four factors. 

First is boundaries. You and your partner are able to find ways to meet each other’s needs in ways that you both feel comfortable with.

Second is communication. Healthy relationships involve partners who can share feelings freely, agree to disagree, and communicate in ways that “makes the other person feel safe, heard, and not judged.”

Trust is another factor in building a strong foundation for a relationship. Building trust takes time and this allows couples to be vulnerable knowing that they can rely on the other person.

Lastly is consent. “Giving consent means that you are okay with what is happening, and that no one is forcing you or guilting you into doing anything that you don’t want to do,” the article stated.  

It’s important to emphasize that consent can be given and taken back at any time, and giving consent once does not mean it is given “automatically” in the future.

The 1:5 ratio

Asked for practical tips on making relationships work, Coach Vee said she swears by Dr. Gottman’s 1:5 ratio. 

The famed relationship expert did not just chance upon the “magic ratio.” Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson began doing longitudinal studies in the 1970s to understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples.

Old couple with a long lasting relationship
To make relationships work, Coach Vee said she swears by Dr. Gottman’s 1:5 ratio. Photo by Imtmphoto, Adobe Stock Photos

In these studies, they asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship. After reviewing the tapes and following up with the couple-respondents nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would end in divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.

Striking a balance

Their discovery was simple. “The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last,” according to an article by relationship expert Kyle Benson, published on the official website of The Gottman Institute. 

That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy relationship should balance it with five—or more—positive interactions.

What is considered a negative interaction? Examples include the so-called “Four Horsemen,” which is a predictor of divorce, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

The “Four Horsemen” of an apocalyptic relationship are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, which occurs when the listener withdraws from the conflict or interaction by shutting down or simply not responding to their partner. 

successful relationship require effort
Ultimately, successful relationships require effort, nurturing, and attention.
Photo from Getty Images

On the other hand, positive interactions include showing interest, expressing affection, showing intentional appreciation, empathizing and apologizing, finding opportunities for agreement, accepting (but not necessarily agreeing with) your partner’s perspective, and lightening things up. 

Ultimately, successful relationships require effort, nurturing, and attention. There are no quick fixes, fast-track methods, magic solutions to ensure that a relationship is for the long haul. 

One thing is certain: A healthy, pleasing, and successful relationship can be challenging to maintain, but the effort is always worthwhile.

Associate Editor

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