Psychology and Relationships

2 'red flag phrases' that mean your relationship is in 'shaky territory,' according to John and Julie Gottman

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Is there a formula for everlasting love? The question seems rhetorical if not entirely asinine.

However, renowned clinical psychologists and researchers John and Julie Gottman have dedicated the last forty years to answering it. 

The two have interviewed more than 3,000 couples and followed some for as long as 20 years. They have also studied more than 40,000 couples who are about to begin couples therapy.

Much of their research is conducted through The Gottman Love Lab, a research center dedicated to finding out how love lasts. 

And in their new book "The Love Prescription: 7 Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy" they argue that you can follow an instruction manual to love.

One reason romantic unions slip into dismay, they write, is because people aren't asking for what they need. 

Instead, we drop hints about what we need in hopes that our partners will pick up on the clues and satisfy desires we've never actually vocalized.  When they fail to pass this already-doomed test, we criticize them and say: "You never" or "You always." 

"These red flag phrases alert us that a couple is in shaky territory," they write. "The negative perspective might be starting to set in." 

'We've all been shut down'

Most people know that asking for what you want is harder than it sounds.

"It can be nerve-wracking to be so vulnerable – even with your partner," they write. "It can feel scary. If you ask someone for something there's a chance they'll say no. At some point in our lives, we've all been shut down." 

Having our requests ignored can often result in us believing we aren't worthy of having our needs met or that our needs are bad. 

Going forward, instead of being clear about what we require we simply allude to it and pray our partners will catch on. This is where disappointment and resentment seep in because your partner is not a mind reader. 

A better way to get what you want is to simply ask, in a straightforward, non-accusatory way. 

Use these 3 steps to ask for what you need

If you have trouble expressing your needs, the Gottmans suggest following these three steps.

Step 1: Reflect 

"Take a moment, right now, and think about what you've been wanting from your partner," they write. 

Is it more date nights? Or more help around the house? 

Step 2: Reframe

"If you are thinking in a negative perspective, flip it," they write. "Don't point out what's wrong. Offer an opportunity." 

What positive action can your partner take to fulfill this need? 

Step 3: Describe yourself

"Always ask for what you need by talking about how you feel and what you need," they write. 

If you want more date nights, instead of saying "You never take me on dates anymore," say "I miss you. Can we plan to have more one-on-one date nights this month?"

If you need more help around the house, don't say "You always go to bed before the dishes are done." Instead, say "I've been feeling super swamped lately. Would you be able to help me out with the dishes before bed?" 

If your relationship is prone to a pattern of criticism, the other person might read anything you say as negative. But if you continue to speak with your partner from a place of positivity, a shift will occur and they might start feeling less attacked and more receptive. 

You can also try to ask for needs that aren't "corrective," but are acts that will make you happy.

For example, you can ask them to make you a cocktail you both enjoy or to stop by your favorite bakery for a snack you both can eat together. 

"Make a sweet request that they can easily fulfill," they write. "So you can genuinely say 'Thank you! That felt great!'" 

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