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Relationships / Blog

    Thomas Bradbury, Ph.D.

Thomas Bradbury, Ph.D.'s Bio

Dr. Bradbury studies how intimate relationships develop and change.

Building Great Relationships: Simple, But Not Easy


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On Tuesday August 24th, at 2 pm Eastern and 11 am Pacific, Thomas Bradbury and Benjamin Karney will present a 1-hour webinar in the ‘This Emotional Life’ Speaker Series.  The presentation, titled ‘Building Great Relationships,’ summarizes their 20-year program of research on how happy newlywed couples grow and change over the first several years of marriage. 

If everyone really wants to have a great relationship, why is this so difficult to achieve?  Why do some relationships thrive while others falter?  And, knowing this, what can people do to build great relationships?  Bradbury and Karney aim to answer these questions, and will also field questions from participants at the end of their presentation.  

‘Building Great Relationships’ is co-presented with eHarmony.com.  Registration is free but limited.  For details: http://thisemotionallife.mv.treehousei.com/webinars/201008/relationship_signup.html

Information abounds when it comes to advice on how to be healthy and fit.  Sure, some of this advice can be off-beat, dangerous, and even contradictory – and sometimes all of these things at once.  But if you read enough self-help books on health, and enough stories in the news and in magazines, eventually you discern the basic and most inviolable rule:  if you eat less and move more, you will lose weight.  Just like every physicist must acknowledge gravity, and just like every supermodel and professional football player must acknowledge the reality of aging, every credible expert on diet and health must acknowledge that all efforts toward  personal fitness start with this simple rule.

Eat less, move more:  a beautiful rule, so elegant in its simplicity.  And yet for most of us, this rule is outrageously difficult to put into practice and to sustain for long spans of time.  If only the rule were more complex, we would have a great excuse for being a few pounds overweight!  “I thought that eating a lot of green leafy vegetables would nullify the effects of the red meat, as long as I ate the vegetables first, facing north, on months with an R in them, using chopsticks.  Boy these new dieting rules sure are hard to understand!”  But no.  The rule is maddeningly simple, and if you can manage to follow it, it will produce the expected results. 

But just because the rule is simple does not mean the rule is easy to follow.  Simple and easy mean different things.  Some simple things are easy to enact (drive on the right, pay attention to other cars, check your mirrors, signal when turning and changing lanes) but many simple things can be difficult.  If you save 10% of your monthly income from now until the age of 72, and invest it wisely, you will have a terrific nest egg for retirement!  If you write a little bit every day, and then go back and edit what you have written the very next day, pretty soon you will have a complete novel!   If you leave the house early, and plan accordingly for traffic and weather conditions, you will never ever be late to an appointment!  Easy rules, hard to follow.

Most of us can think of a lot of reasons why – despite knowing the rule, and despite our best intentions -- we sometimes eat more, and move less.  These reasons matter, and it is with these reasons that we must grapple.  Here is where we wrestle with our demons, whether it be a preference for pizza over salad, sore knees that make it hard to get back on the treadmill, years of neglecting the rule, an aging metabolism that makes it so hard to shake those few extra pounds, or the daily stress that forces us to catch an unhealthy lunch on the run while leaving us too drained to exercise later in the day. 

The rule is simple, but the point is there are good and powerful reasons for why it is difficult to follow the rule.  Knowing what must be done to achieve personal fitness is simple, but implementing this knowledge is not easy.

We believe that good, healthy relationships – maintaining interpersonal fitness, if you will – work in much the same way.  Just like many diet books and newspaper articles say the same thing, many self-help books for relationships also offer a simple rule.  And a lot of very good research supports that rule, just as in the case with exercise and diet.  Pause for a moment and think about that:  is there a rule like ‘eat less, move more’ that is inviolable for healthy relationships?  A rule that is the sine qua non of strong intimate connections?  What do you think that simple rule might be? 

Once you define that rule, a big problem then looms its ugly head:  the rule does not seem very easy to follow.  After all, nearly half of all first marriages end in separation and divorce, and dissolution rates are even higher for remarriages.  At least 3 couples in 10 who have managed to keep their marriage intact are not so happy with it, according to one recent nationally representative study.  And relationship problems are the leading reason why anyone seeks any kind of professional counseling in the US. 

People really do want and value healthy relationships, just as they want and value fitness and health.  And yet achieving the kind of closeness we want is difficult.  Knowing the rule that underlies healthy intimate bonds is necessary for achieving those bonds, but it is not sufficient.  The rule is of little use unless we also know why the rule is so difficult to follow.  Recognizing and confronting these hurdles is the key to building a great relationship. 

Our webinar will outline the rule that, according to our research, governs wellness in intimate relationships – together, of course, with the main factors that make this rule difficult to follow.  Please join us to learn more!  If you cannot attend the presentation as it is streaming live, please search for This Emotional Life webinar on youtube.com.

Drs. Bradbury and Karney are professors in the UCLA Department of Psychology and co-directors of the UCLA Relationship Institute.  Follow their Twitter feed on couples, families, and relationships at:  @UCLA_RI.