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Based on over four decades of research data, world-renowned relationship psychologist John Gottman believes that there are five types of couples: Conflict-Avoiding, Validating, Volatile, Hostile, and Hostile-Detached. You can read in more detail about your relationship style here, but for now, here are the five types of couples ranked from strongest to weakest.
“The interaction of these couples is characterized by ease and calm. They put a lot of emphasis on supporting and understanding their partner’s point of view, and are often empathetic about their partner’s feelings.” (The Gottman Relationship Blog)
Validating Couples are by far the strongest couples, due to their inherent desire to truly understand one another. Whether they are head-over-heels happy or in the midst of a heated argument, they are always making an effort to see things from their partner’s eyes, and to ensure that they are always working towards compromise within their relationship.
“Volatile couples are intensely emotional. Their debating is characterized by a lot of laughter, shared amusement, and humor. They seem to love to debate and argue, but they are not disrespectful and insulting.” (The Gottman Relationship Blog)
Volatile couples are definitely dealing with a lot of varying emotions consistently throughout their relationship, but the important thing (and the reason why they have healthy relationships) is that they get everything out in the open. They might argue a lot, but it is never malicious or contemptuous; it is always respectful, illuminating, and sometimes even funny. Even though negative variables are always coming into play (uncomfortable feelings like anger, issues with insecurity, etc), they always make an effort to listen to each other and to make sure that their communication is honest, open, and nonjudgmental.
“They avoid conflict, avoid expressing what they need from one another, and congratulate their relationship for being generally happy. An important aspect about conflict-avoiding couples is in the balance between independence and interdependence. They have clear boundaries, and are separate people with separate interests.” (The Gottman Relationship Blog)
There are certainly some challenges that come with being in a conflict-avoiding relationship, but there are also some definite positive aspects. Conflict-avoiders are very rarely emotionally expressive and like to keep things to themselves. The hard part is that conflict-avoiders believe that their relationship will only be happy and healthy when they are not fighting, even though the previous two couple styles above show that fighting can be healthy and even beneficial. But one of the great things about this relationship style is the partners are always looking for common ground – they like feeling connected and they like finding ways in which they can help and depend on each other. Even if they aren’t the best at expressing their emotions, they like to find little caring ways to show that they love one another. But their main challenge is fighting their instinctive urge to sweep ‘uncomfortable’ topics under the rug.
“Hostile couples are like validators, except there are high levels of defensiveness on the part of both partners. [In the labs] there was also a lot of criticism, ‘you always’ and ‘you never’ statements, and whining.” (The Gottman Relationship Blog)
This is the point in which we move from healthy couple styles into unhealthy territory. Hostile couples are always so focused on defending themselves and refusing to see their own blunders that they don’t end up hearing what’s actually bothering their partner. They want to blame their partner and discuss the problems with their partner’s behaviors, but don’t want to hear about their own behavioral problems and instead just want to consistently whine and complain instead of swallowing their pride and making an effort to work on their relationship. It’s why both partners continually fight and argue with each other but never seem to come out a little better on the other side – nothing ever changes because no one is willing to change.
“These couples are like two armies engaged in a mutually frustrating and lonely standoff. They snipe at one another during conflict, although the air is one of emotional detachment and resignation.” (The Gottman Relationship Blog)
A Hostile-Detached Couple is an even more detrimental relationship style than simply a Hostile Couple, because Hostile couples are actually aware of the negativities, complaints, and problems that are constantly argued about in their relationship – whereas Detached couples simply check out and don’t even bother to care. They’ve already made the decision, somewhere deep down, to let their relationship fail at some point in the future (even if they don’t realize it). They don’t listen to their partner, they try to convince themselves not to care in order to protect themselves, and they choose passive aggression over anger – thinking it’s the more mature response, when in reality, passive aggression can be even more detrimental because it involves suppressing emotion. They think being detached and resigned gives them a little more control and a little bit of a better chance, when in reality, all that does is put the nail in the coffin somewhere down the road.