Relationship Help » Relationship Help Articles

Read relationship help articles written by Dr. John Grey. Each article offers valuable information that could give you the relationship help you want. You can start by picking one of the Help Categories listed on this page. Or browse through the sample of relationship help articles displayed below…

Attachment Types and How We Relate

Attachment research looks at how pairs of people bond emotionally. Initial research was largely with mothers and one-year old infants.

Eventually this extended to study adult couples. We will look at both, and how attachment patterns in childhood influence how we pair-bond as adult partners.

The focus is on how one handles distress. Can you maintain a happy, thriving relationship and deal well with upsets? Or does distress mount and erode shared happiness? And how does that relate to what you experienced before you even had words?
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Collaborate for a Win-Win

To maintain shared happiness and minimize distress as a couple, you have to know how to successfully collaborate with each other.

To do this, there are certain strategies and skills that will enable you to communicate well when there are decisions to make or differences to settle.

The essence of good collaboration is to adhere to a basic rule: you have not reached a real and proper decision until both of you really like it. In other words, all decisions must be good for both partners. Continue reading

Love 3.0 – Rules for a Strong Marriage

I want to let you know about a relationship model that I call “Love 3.0”.

I have consistently found that when a couple understands this model, it rocks their world. It offers crucial information and enormous value to strengthen a marriage and increase shared happiness while decreasing distress.

This is an emerging model in state-of-the-art couples therapy, finally providing real help to struggling couples. I will contrast it to why traditional couples therapy so often misses the mark in helping couples or offering effective tools to improve. I will show why my work is different, not only in the intensive format I use, but also in the underlying model of marriage health that is the basis of my approach. Continue reading

New Steps for Thriving Love

Let us say relationship is like a “dance.” An optimal loving partnership would be a romantic dance where shared happiness and fulfillment are maximized.

Dancing this way, our feelings of connection, intimacy, love, pleasure, and satisfaction would deepen over the years — rather than diminish.

Some lucky couples dance this way naturally. But what about the rest of us, who inadvertently stumble or step on each other’s feet? Well, simply put, we need to learn a few new steps.

What steps produce an optimal loving partnership? Luckily, this has been discovered scientifically through thousands of research studies on relationship satisfaction.
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Keys to Relationship Repair

All couples encounter differences and fall out of synch at times. They may disagree about things, misinterpret one another, or get their buttons pushed. Your ability to effectively communicate at such times makes all the difference between resolving issues or getting stuck in upset.

Unfortunately, most of us did not grow up seeing adults model healthy ways to work through differences. So we don’t know how to talk with one another in a way that handles each other’s distress.

We can all learn from couples who share ongoing happiness. How do they communicate and  handle distress? A key skill they have is being able to rapidly repair things. They are good at quickly attending to the little glitches that every relationship encounters. Continue reading

On the Brink of Divorce

In my intensive marriage retreats, I frequently work with couples on the brink of divorce. One or both partners seem to have given up. They arrive ambivalent about staying together. Most people would wonder, “What could possibly help them now?”

But quite often, within two or three days I see an amazing turnaround! I never get tired of witnessing what seems miraculous…. As I help each partner see more clearly what has really been plaguing them, a surprising majority of times things dramatically shift.

In working with me, couples learn things they never knew. They find out what scientific research shows us to be the basis of lasting happiness in a healthy intimate partnership. Partners then understand one another better and learn tools to turn things around. And they start feeling their love for each other again. Continue reading

Three Keys to a Secure Partnership

Most relationships start with happiness and hope. The last few decades of scientific research on love reveals what you need to do in order to sustain those positive feelings. It also explains why for so many couples positive feelings erode over time.

An intimate partnership can function in one of two ways — securely or insecurely. If you want lasting happiness, you need to be in a securely functioning relationship.

When a couple functions securely, love and satisfaction grow with time. Shared happiness is maximized and distress is minimized. Things feel fair, equal, just and sensitive. Rifts get quickly repaired. Past upsets do not linger as negative memories. Continue reading

Relationship CPR

Small upsets that don’t get handled will inevitably lead to much bigger upsets down the road. So if you are not that great at handling upsets well, you could use “Relationship CPR.”

What’s that? CATCH… PAUSE… REPAIR.

Here’s how it works. Alan came home late but didn’t call. Sarah reacted by complaining and criticizing him. He counter-reacted by defending himself, then dismissing her as over-emotional. Sarah realized they were in a familiar downward spiral. Time for Relationship CPR… Continue reading

How to Repair Upsets & Stay Happy

What’s the difference between couples who share long term happiness and those who don’t? In a word, they know how to repair. All partners go in and out of synch and can occasionally be at odds. How this gets handled makes all the difference.

Couples who keep love alive are good at quickly repairing the rifts and glitches every relationship encounters. Knowing how to repair is a vital skill to keep love alive and thriving. Continue reading

Connect Fast vs Slow Communicators

An overlooked factor that creates stress and upset between partners has to do with the differing rate at which partners process information and communicate.

This is usually due to a basic but overlooked factor. Their brains have different clock speeds. Like the fable of the tortoise and hare, some brains run faster, some run slower.

Using the dance metaphor, it’s as if the couple is trying to dance together, but they move at different speeds. One partner is doing a fast jitterbug, the other a slow waltz. Trying to dance in two completely different tempos, they step on each other’s feet. 
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The Battle of Thinkers vs Feelers

A common battle with couples comes about when one partner operates more from feeling and the other from thinking. This creates more upset over time as they try to communicate using very different brain channels. From a neuroscience point of view, they differ by which side of the brain runs their communication process.

One is more left-brain dominant and the other speaks more from their right-brain. Mind you, this does not make either of them more “right.” But it does challenge their ability to connect and understand each other — especially if they discuss a stressful topic or try to repair an upset. The way they communicate through these differing brain channels will upset them even more.

So let’s look at some of the underlying properties of right- and left-brain dominance, and what you can do about bringing more brain balance to your conversations. 
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Eliminate Blowups and Shutdowns

One of the most problematic differences between partners can be their nervous system biases in energy and arousal levels.

Some people run high, others low. Some run hot, others cold. This will result in very different emotional reactions when triggered.

One may be volatile, expansive, or over-the-top. The other may contract, go blank, numb out, or shut down. Think of these as “volcanos” vs. “icebergs.”

Volcanos have high energy states. They yell, interrupt, gesture. Anger is a part of their language. They may be from a hot-blooded, highly expressive family, where excited emotions quickly arose and got loud.

Icebergs are quiet and contained. Fighting is rare and emotions run low. Showing anger is rare and aggression is passive. They may be from a cool family where voices were not raised and good children were seen but not heard. 
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Overcome Pursuer vs Withdrawer

It can be challenging when one partner wants to feel connected just when the other feels a need for space.

Having these opposite needs at the same time is quite common. Many couples can fall in and out of synch like that on a daily basis.

How a couple negotiates being together vs. alone will determine how secure they feel with each other. Unfortunately, these differing needs often turn into a Polarity Dance of pursuer vs. withdrawer.

It can happen whenever one partner is pursuing the other for closeness and connection—while the other partner is withdrawing or becoming more distant.

The more one chases connection, the more the other runs away. Conversely, the more that partner distances, the more the first pursues. As this escalates over time, distress in each partner increases. As they polarize more, levels of upset escalate. 
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Rule One for Lasting Love

Rule one for love to thrive is to stop fighting over your differences—and learn to collaborate!

They say differences attract. It’s interesting how those differences that initially attract us to each other end up being our biggest source of problems with each other.

Relationship problems are often based on personality differences that partners have a hard time negotiating with each other. When the challenge of working with differing wants and needs is not mutually met, these differences will seem to become magnified over time.

Another name for this is polarization. Couples tend to polarize over their differences. And the degree to which they polarize will increase over time. This is an unconscious process. We are normally not aware of it happening—until it gets very upsetting. Then it can turn into a full scale battle over who is right—and who needs to change.
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The Importance of Quick Repair

How do couples who share ongoing happiness differ from those who don’t? One key difference is that they know how to quickly repair. Partners who keep love alive resolve small rifts or ruptures before they escalate into big ones. 

All couples go in and out of synch and can occasionally be at odds. Knowing how to repair such distress is central to staying happily connected.

Here’s an example of repair. Say your partner forgets to do something they agreed to do. You react by criticizing them. They react back defensively. You now notice you are in a familiar reactive pattern. What can you do? Below are some simple steps that couples who engage in quick repair would do. Continue reading

Beyond the Honeymoon

The honeymoon is a time of magic and wonder, of a deep loving connection. Relationship usually start with such great promise that one wonders how anything could ever possibly go wrong.

But we all know that sooner or later the honeymoon is over.

And then another phase begins — where couples encounter the inevitable bumps on the road to happily ever after.

What signals the crossing of this dreaded threshold? What exactly are the signs? Couples usually feel the honeymoon is over as problems, challenges, upsets or differences begin to take center stage. These are normally seen as negative signs… signs that something is “wrong”… signs of a “bad” relationship. Continue reading

Ending the Vicious Cycle

When many of us try to “work” on our relationship, how we communicate does not work at all! Instead of resolving issues, we fall into a vicious cycle, which creates even bigger problems and more upset feelings. Talking can go around in circles for hours, and never get anywhere that feels positive. Couples get stuck in a vicious cycle.

How you talk makes a difference. How you communicate is like choosing the road you take. Sadly, the road that many couples take when faced with challenges or issues leads them into a familiar downward spiral. Despite their best intentions (at least to begin with) things only accelerate downhill. Continue reading

How to Stop Poor Communication

Let’s say you find that you are involved in a situation where you and/or your partner are getting upset.

Not having tools for stopping poor communication, you fall into in a destructive pattern of reactivity.

Different people react in different ways, of course. One person might get more visibly angry or critical. Another might try to avoid and withdraw. Regardless of the form, these are all some form of reacting.

Someone has just said or done something, and the other person is getting upset and showing this through some form of reactivity. The best thing you can do as soon as you recognize this is to put on the brakes, so to speak, and then try to reverse out of the situation as quickly as possible — to repair it in some way. Continue reading

Agree to Stop the Damage

When you find yourself stuck in the middle of an emotionally reactive pattern, the only result you can get is further reactivity.

You will never successfully resolve an issue when your primitive reactive brain has taken control of the conversation.

Continuing to talk more is like trying to put out a fire by throwing gasoline on it. Good things will never come of further communication. It’s time to agree to stop the damage.

Making an agreement to pause at such times with your partner is crucial. It can literally save your relationship. If you cannot pause, it is as if you have a car that only has an accelerator and no brakes. That will never turn out well for you, as you will just go faster and faster, speeding up until you crash. Empowering your relationship with a pause agreement is like installing a vital factor — brakes — in your vehicle.
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Personality Types in Love

We all know that different people have different personality types. One person is like fire, while another is like ice!

But how many different types are there? What are they? And how exactly do personality differences impact our relationships?

According to the most useful system I have encountered — it’s called the “Enneagram” — there are nine basic personality types. We might have some of each type within us. But we likely will identify more strongly with one or two of these types. Continue reading

Soulmates — Myth or Reality?

Many of us dream about a soulmate

The idea of a soulmate has both conscious or unconscious elements. Even if we do not intellectually believe in soulmates, we are still affected. 

Many people openly and consciously yearn for a soulmate. They may even believe one person is out there for them, that “right” person.

In Rutgers University’s 2001 National Marriage Project Survey, 94% of 20-to-29-year-olds said: “When you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.” Another 88% said: “There is a special person, a soulmate, waiting for you out there.” Continue reading

Soulmates — Love is Not Enough

Falling in love is like a spiritual experience

When couples first fall in love, it is the honeymoon — a time of magic and wonder.

Hearts open. Spirits soar. In this expansive state, with ecstatic feelings of being in love, couples may feel they are soulmates.

This initial feeling of “being soulmates” is all about the incredible openness and receptivity, the expansion so far beyond our norm and comfort zone, the heightened access we feel to a passionate connection. Continue reading

Soulmates — How to Know One

Soulmates engage in growth together

Couples who are becoming soulmates are willing to learn how to keep their hearts open, even when the going gets rough.

They commit to learn to bring out their best, instead of passively giving way to their habitual reactions.

They refuse to simply close down into fear, withdrawal, self-defensiveness, resentment, blame, criticism, or the many other common ways we destroy our own relationships. Continue reading