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seven principles for successful relationships.

Huiyi and I are halfway through a four-session marriage preparation workshop (MPW) organised by Grace AG. We signed up for this together with Johann and Rachel, as well as Gideon and Kyann. This is the second MPW we’re attending, the first one being in Shanghai, so it’s quite refreshing revisiting some topics, which always make for meaningful conversations.

In the last session, our facilitator (Dr Alton Chua) shared with us John Gottman’s materials. I thought it was a pragmatic read, so I’d like to share it here. Here are the seven principles Gottman proposes to increase positive couple interactions:

  1. Know each other: Learn all about each other’s likes, dislikes, wishes, hopes and dreams.
  2. Focus on each other’s positive qualities: Develop positives feelings for each other, and remember the good times you have shared with each other.
  3. Interact frequently: tell each other about your day, your thoughts and your experiences. Romance is fueled not by candlelight dinners, but by interacting with your partner in numerous little ways.
  4. Let your partner influence you: Share power and be opened to change.
  5. Solve your solvable problems: Communicate respectfully. Criticise behavior without criticising your partner. Take a break when you’re getting too upset, and compromise.
  6. Overcome gridlock: Understand your partner’s underlying feelings which are preventing resolution of the conflict.
  7. Create shared meaning: Share values, attitudes, interests and traditions.

Gottman believes that couples have lesser trouble resolving conflicts when they feel positively towards one another. But one of the best things I learnt from last night was that frequent and positive couple interactions (such as communicating or negotiating) result in reducing unnecessary conflict resolution (or make it easier to resolve). Gottman also argues that “successful conflict resolution does not necessarily lead to successful marriages”, which I wholeheartedly agree with because every relationship must have elements of fun, romance and spontaneity.

Here are three more observations from Gottman which I thought are helpful to know:

  • Couples in successful marriages were found to be willing to be mutually influenced. For example, the husband makes adjustments to his schedule when his wife plans something out of the blue.
  • They know how to repair and exit an argument and not let it fester. And know when to change the topic, use humour, offer positive remarks, or seek to stand on common ground.
  • In a happy marriage, couples make at least five times as many positive statements to each other and their relationship as negative ones.

On hindsight, signing up for MPW was one of the best things that Huiyi and I did together in Shanghai. It allowed us to talk about issues that are not normally discussed during dates, such as dealing with in-laws, managing finances and dealing with past baggages, amongst many others.

We were both surprised by what we discovered about each other, and it was reassuring for both of us to know how willing we were to embrace each other’s differences. I am thankful that I acted on the Holy Spirit’s prompting to sign up for MPW in the second year of our courtship despite us being just a one-year-old couple.

With that, I’d urge all serious and committed couples to sign up for a marriage preparation workshop whenever they can, instead of waiting until they are engaged or have made all the wedding bookings. Remember, an MPW isn’t a WPW; you’re preparing for a marriage, not a wedding!

I’m never one to use age to determine readiness because I believe that it is down to which season of life one is in. (That would be a blog post in itself!) So generally speaking, I won’t recommend MPW for most of my young people or for most couples still in school. But if you are serious about each other and working towards marriage, then it may be wise (and mutually responsible) to include MPW as one of the landmarks you arrive at in your 20’s.

Dr Alton told us that some couples have actually chosen to go their separate ways after attending MPW, and that he has seen some people return to MPW after a few years with another partner. MPW does provides a platform for couples to discover irreconcilable differences. Honestly, I think that’s a good thing!

I also reckon that it is much wiser for a dating couple to end their two-year courtship after attending MPW, than for a married couple to sign divorce papers two years after their solemnisation.

My friends, the odds are stacked against us – one in two marriages end up in divorce – and being a Christian couple doesn’t guarantee that you’re on the successful side of this alarming statistic. Marriage, as all married men and women would know, requires serious effort and commitment from one another.

But if you wait until you’re married to discover that, you’re going to dig a hole for yourself. Would you rather be a wise one that learns from the mistakes of others, or a fool that learns from his own?

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