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Importance of relationships

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. -- In last month's edition of the Refueler I reinforced the importance of maintaining our foun-dation of healthy living by paying attention to diet, rest, exercise, healthy relationships, balanced lives, faith, hope, humor and mindfulness. In that article I selected the foundation stone of healthy relationships to discuss in greater detail as we move into 2014, and closed with the com-ment that we are stronger together than apart.

Families that are resistant to hardship are one example of strength through relationship, while the success record of the 157organizational family is another great example. In this article the importance of relationships in our lives is discussed along with a few words about negative behaviors that lead to relationship failure within couples.

We are relational beings. Research consistently demonstrates that meaningful relationships increase both the number of years we live and the quality of those years. From the first bonds we establish with our parents to the very last meaningful interactions we have with others at life's end, the journey that is our lives weaves through many, many relationships. We first learn how to behave appropriately in the world through social interactions with our family and friends, which evolves into development of our core values. We thrive upon the support, love and encour-agement shared by others, and in turn learn how to be giving, compassionate beings ourselves. Our working lives are facilitated through success-ful interpersonal interactions, while successful careers typically reflect a lifetime of meaningful relationships. Children and families grow out of intimate interpersonal relationships. In short, we experience countless relationships that are important to our healthy development and happiness.

It is with the intimate personal relationships that the focus of this discussion moves to. Unfortunately some intimate relationships do not endure but instead end in break-up, separation or divorce. There is abundant research supporting common negative themes that emerge in troubled rela-tionships. John Gottman, The Marriage Clinic, 1999, describes four behaviors exhibited by partners that are particularly corrosive to intimate relationships: The first behavior is criticism which according to Gottman is one partner finding significant or "global" fault with the other part-ner. It is not a specific complaint or fault with the partner but a broader destructive message such as "he is always insensitive," or "she has to be right."
The second behavior, which follows criticism, is defensiveness. Quite simply defensiveness is any attempt to defend oneself from a perceived attack and can be thought of as the victim who cannot understand why they are being attacked: "what are you picking on me for? I did not do anything wrong."

The third behavior is contempt which evolves out of criticism and defensiveness, and can be thought of as one partner putting the other partner down in order to feel better about themselves, or superior to them. Contempt can be accomplished through words or phrases such as "yea, you're taking such good care of your own needs really helps us grow as a couple," or through body language such as an exaggerated eye roll or scowl.

The fourth and final behavior is known as stonewalling, and is the act of the listener, or partner, withdrawing or disengaging from the disagree-ment through a change in words, body language, or by physically leaving. Gottman refers to these behaviors as the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." It is easy to see how these behaviors can be very corrosive and ultimately destructive to relationships.

So how does one reign in the four horsemen in order to repair damaged relationships? In the next article the focus will shift to decreasing nega-tive behaviors and increasing positive communication exchanges, thereby promoting a healthy balance in the relationship.

As always I remain available to discuss these and other concerns.