12 February, 2013

ABC TV, backed by Relationships Australia, are showing a four-part series entitled Making Couples Happy, airing at 8.30pm Thursdays, from 14 February. Documenting a journey of eight challenging and confronting weeks, where four ordinary couples embark on a journey to happiness and relationship fulfillment. For some, it’s their last chance before separation.

Watch the trailer here.

In light of the Making Couples Happy series, senior relationships counselor, Diana Sayer, shares her valuable information and advice:

Why is it that the squeaky wheel gets all the attention? It seems that whenever our relationship is going through a rough patch, we start to question its value and wonder what we are doing wrong. Yet when things are going well, how often do we ask ourselves - what are we doing right?

A good relationship means different things to different people. A healthy relationship generally involves two individuals who respect each other, can communicate, and have equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities. Happy relationships generally include love, intimacy and sexual expression, commitment, compatibility and companionship. All couples want to have a successful and rewarding relationship, yet it is normal for couples to have ups and downs. To keep your relationship healthy and happy, you need to put in the effort.

According to John Gottman PhD, relationships are a bit like a bank account. Just as you can make deposits and withdrawals from your traditional bank account, you can make deposits and withdrawals from your relationship’s emotional bank account. We need to make regular deposits and if there are fewer deposits than withdrawals, then we run into difficulties. The balance in your emotional account affects how safe or secure you feel in your relationship. When your emotional bank account is high, you think positively about, and feel warmly toward, your partner. So, when he or she makes a mistake, this ‘withdrawal’ from your emotional account still leaves you with plenty to feel happy about.

Making a deposit in your relationship bank account means doing or saying something that has a positive impact on the other person and on the relationship, such as letting your partner know that he/she is loved and is important in your life. Making a withdrawal means doing or saying something that has a negative impact on the other person and on the relationship, such as blaming or criticising.

Having a healthy relationship bank account involves making plenty of deposits of kindness, caring, giving and loving. Gottman’s research has shown that you need to deposit five positive experiences as a couple to counteract the impact of one negative experience, such as an argument.


Some ideas for keeping your relationship bank account high are:

Build a foundation of appreciation and respect. Remember the little things countBe courteous, show and declare your love, and be appreciative of what your partner adds to your life. Focus on all the considerate things your partner says and does. Happy couples make a point of noticing even small opportunities to say "thank you" to their partner, rather than focusing on mistakes their partner has made.

Be attentive and supportive: To feel cared about, your partner needs for you to take an interest in him or her. When they talk about their day, truly listen. When they struggle with a problem or are excited about a new interest, be supportive. Remind yourself that you are a team, and in order for the team to be successful, you each have to demonstrate your commitment to the relationship.

Do something special: Going out of your way for your partner can add lots to your account. You might bring them great happiness simply by offering to cook dinner if they’ve had a tough day. It is what you do for someone that tells them that you love them.

Fight with mutual respect: Every couple argues or has disagreements. When you do, always keep your communication respectful. Show that you care even when you disagree.

Make repair attempts – if you make a mistake or hurt your partner's feelings. Saying "I'm sorry" goes a long way towards healing a rift in a relationship. Your partner will trust you more if he or she knows that you will take responsibility for your words and actions.

Talk to each other. Communicate your needs – don’t wait for your partner to try to guess what they are. If you have something to bring up, do it gently and respectfully. It is also important to listen to each other. Focus on letting your partner know that you have heard them before you give them your response.

Spend time together. Make your relationship a priority and make time for each other every day – even if it is only 15 minutes over a glass of wine at the end of the day or a stroll together through the weekend markets. Quality time and rituals are a really useful way of enhancing your relationship.

Remember important dates. Birthdays and anniversaries provide an opportunity to stop and reflect on the importance of your relationship, how much it means to you and to value what you have.

Everyone is different. Accept and value differences in others, including your partner. We often choose people who have qualities and abilities we would like more of. This is one of the reasons why our relationships offer us significant opportunities to grow and develop as individuals.

Make plans – set goals for your relationship and plan for your future. This shows that you are both in the relationship for the long term.

Be affectionate - sometimes a lingering kiss or a warm hug are just as important as words or sex.

Enjoy yourself – have fun and celebrate your life together. Being able to laugh together during tough times can be very healing. Humour helps to promotes intimacy, belonging, and cohesiveness.

Be flexible – let your relationship grow and adapt as you both change. It’s also important to try new things as a couple

By thinking in terms of an emotional bank account, you can gauge the strength of your relationship. If your account is close to zero, build up that balance. The best strategy with any relationship is to make regular deposits a matter of course, ensuring that you maintain a healthy balance and a healthy relationship.


Diana Sayer, Senior Clinical Leader, Relationships Australia Queensland


Seeking help for relationship issues

If there are issues in your relationship that are difficult or painful to talk to each other about, consider seeing a relationships counsellor. A counsellor can be of great value to help you talk things through and resolve problems in a positive way.


Gottman, JM., Silver N. (2000). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Random House, Three Rivers.