• Monique Harding

Want to reduce stress in your life? - Partner well

In 1967, Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe embarked on a large-scale study to determine if stress contributes to illness. From their research, an inventory of the top ten most stressful life events was published. Relational difficulties dominated this list with the top three most distressing life events identified as;

1) Death of a spouse (or child)

2) Divorce

3) Marital Separation

Marriage itself was rated #6 and martial reconciliation #9.

The idea of partnering well is not a new one. Some of the most renowned leaders in business and politics will often attribute much of their success to the relationship they share with their intimate partners. If you have ever heard Ex-President, Borack Obama speak, he will commonly refer to his wife, Michelle as the most positive and influential support in his life. Boost Juice Founder, Janine Ellis has also been known to echo this very sentiment; linking her own entrepreneurial success to the support and encouragement from her husband. It appears widely accepted that there is some link between your happiness as an individual and the relationship you share with those closest to you.

But how do we ensure our intimate relationships are reflective of support and inspiration and not result in us ticking off the Holm and Rahe stress scale like a speed test?

If you think that partnering well is all about the qualities you need to seek in a partner – wrong! It turns out that your overall relationship satisfaction and ultimate longevity may be related to the age you ‘shack up’. This is good news if you are a ‘proactive information seeking’ millennial reading this! Research shows that the older you are when you get married, the lower the divorce rate. Here’s some potential reasons why;

  1. Neuroscience has confirmed that the human brain is still developing for some of us at age 25. Our 20’s are a period of self-discovery, growth and significant change. Whilst the overall divorce rate in Australia has actually decreased over the last five years, the rate for couples who married in their 20’s has increased.

  2. Personality! As your brain continues to change in your 20’s, so does your personality. Personality in your 20’s does not correlate with that reported in your 50’s. However, personality measures in your 30’s do.

  3. Partnering later allows two key preventative factors that have been linked with divorce to come into play – tertiary education and higher income

So, is it really just a matter of waiting until you’re a bit older to find ‘the one’? Or are all marriages/partnerships that are formalised in your 20's doomed to fail? Of course not! The last 50 years has seen extensive research published in the area of longevity in relationships that is widely available. There are things that you can evaluate now within your current partnership to determine if they need work. For example, Psychologist Dr John Gottman who is renowned for his extensive research in the area of love and relationships has pinpointed a number of things that act as relationship cyanide;

  1. 81% of marriages implode where there is an uneven distribution of power in terms of decision making. What he refers to here is when one party is not able to negotiate with the other around big decisions – houses, children, geographical moves etc. In these kind of relationships, it is more about ‘ME’ than ‘WE’. He found that females are typically pretty good at this. It is more common for males to struggle.

  2. High levels of criticism and contempt – “You never help with the housework”, “You are always working”, “You are so selfish, always going to the pub with your friends”. Underneath these statements are unmet deep emotional needs, but said in this way only invites defensiveness and emotional flooding in return.

  3. Financial issues. Money taps into some of our deepest needs and fears such as safety, security, trust and control. My own work with couples has suggested that the typical money conversations rarely tap into the deeper psychological meaning and it is only when they are provided with the tools and directions in therapy that a different kind of understanding starts to emerge.

Just like you get your regular skin check or pap smear, check in on your relationship. You can either wait until the cracks appear and arguments start and intervene or choose to be proactive. A lot of these skills can be taught if the right environment is created. Educate yourself before you commit and invest in some couple work. You don’t need things to be broken to work with a couple’s therapist. With divorce affecting 45% of the population, we are all at high risk.

- Monique Harding

Get in touch at to discuss whether therapy may be able to support you and your relationship. Sessions are available at our Burleigh Heads clinic.

You can read more about John Gottman’s work at

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