Good Relationship Skills Alone Do Not a Harmonious Marriage Make

Dr. Brian and I spoke about “Essential Relationship Skills” back in episode 10 and 11 on the  FamilyAnatomy show. We detailed the personal qualities and strategies that people should develop in order to have a healthy relationship. New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates that while having these traits may be a good pre-requisite to maintaining your relationship, it is not sufficient.

Researchers have been wondering to what extent peoples’ contentment with their relationship is dependent on the interaction with their spouse as opposed to stressors outside of the relationship. These researchers took measures of their participants’ global daily satisfaction and their specific relationship satisfaction. While previous research has established that personal relationship skills can help prevent relationship dissolution, these researchers found that there were more factors at play. More specifically, they noted that global stress levels can increase the experience of negative relationship stress. Stress originating from outside of the relationship can negatively affect your perception of satisfaction within your relationship. In addition, stress interferes with spouses’ capacity to use their relationship skills. In other words, having good relationship skills is great but they won’t help you much if you can’t draw on them in times of stress.

Given these findings, what can couples do? First, it is important for couples to recognize stressors external to the relationship (e.g., work stress) and deal with this stress as early as possible. Methods of managing life stress range from relaxation exercises, to assertively confronting stressful situations, to psychotherapy. Addressing stress early can prevent the creation of relationship problems that are independent of the original stressors. Second, we need to recognize that regardless of how enlightened we may feel with regard to relationships and our skills at successfully managing them, stress can prevent us from using these skills in the moments when they are most needed. In these circumstances, it can be important to temporarily withdraw from a discussion until you’ve regained your composure. This may allow you to return to the situation with more personal resources and thus allow you to put your relationship skills to use.

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