Getting Real with Relationship Expert Mark Groves

WRITTEN BY Taylor Stephan

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Relationships today are weird. Some will blame our generation’s noncommittal nature on social media (for a lack of human connection) or dating apps (for endless options). But truth be told, relationships have always been complicated because feelings are tricky. Also, who wants to be vulnerable? You can rattle off excuses as much as you want, but conflict stems from a singular issue: how connected we are to our true selves. Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing human connection specialist Mark Groves speak on the topic. Here are some of his key insights.

Mark Groves on Healthy Relationships

Quality Relationships Are Directly Related to Long Life

Relationships are hard work. And if you’re thinking, screw it, I’m just gonna do me, that’s cool. However, know that relationships are actually a huge indicator of happiness and longevity. According to the Harvard Men’s Study (the longest running study on happiness and well-being), the greatest predictor of your health at 80 is the quality of your relationships at 50: “not your cholesterol, not your blood pressure, not your diet, not your socioeconomic status,” shared Mark. These relationship findings are mirrored in research on corporate cultures. “One of the top defining characteristics of a healthy corporate culture is the psychological safety to be one self,” he elaborated. So if you ask us, it’s not a bad idea to nurture your relationships.

Your Needs Matter As Much As Your Partner’s

“The ultimate goal in relationships is to create safety and security to be yourself,” Mark reiterated. In my opinion, this part is the one many people fail to achieve. “A defining characteristic of a secure connection is this [credo]: My partner’s needs matter as much as my own—not more than my own, not less than my own, but as much as my own,” explained the relationship expert. But if you’re spending too much time tending to your partner’s needs, you’re likely off balance from your own. “Most people will self-abandon to save relationships; we’re evolutionary programed to do so,” he warned. You learned this as a child and, if you’re not aware, you’ll repeat this toxic pattern in your own relationships as an adult.

Understand How Your Childhood Plays a Role

According to a study from the Gottman Institute (the leading researchers on marriage and family), there are four things they see that result in divorce: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. “All of these are learned mechanisms and survival strategies we learned as kids that we observed our parents do, which made us feel safe,” Mark commented. When these feelings and behaviors arise, you’re just trying to protect yourself from getting hurt. If you want to strengthen your relationships in a real way, these moments are a great time to invite your partner to talk honestly. “Say something like, Hey I noticed you just got defensive… But what are you afraid of being hurt by and why? Getting curious in these moments is very powerful,” he urged.

Shot of couple with arms wrapped around each other for gay pride

When You Love Yourself, You Heal Toxic Patterns

Mark threw out a specific scenario. Have you ever been in a fight with your partner about, say, leaving the toilet seat up? The level of offense is maybe a two but the reaction often dials up to a 10. “That’s because in conflict, we tend to default back to when we first experienced that feeling. We go back to the age at which we first felt rejected,” he explains. Essentially, we’re waiting for our parents to choose us, to love us, to stay for us. “This is why we tend to get into relationships with people who hurt us in similar ways that our parents did,” Mark explained. If we want to heal, it’s our responsibility to practice self-love so we’re not taking it out on our partner.

Take Accountability for Your Words and Energy

It may sound trite, but according to another study from the Gottman Institute, a positive attitude could be the difference between a lasting union and a split. Couples that had over five positive interaction for every negative one had more successful relationships overall. Essentially, the more positive your interactions and conversations, the better the relationship was. “There is, of course, an end where everything is too positive and you’re not grounded,” he warned. “It’s really about how you show up when you’re hurting. Do you show grace? Do you act kindly?” According to the study, anything below this five-to-one ratio predicts divorce. “It just shows you the impact of our words.”

You Always Have the Power to Make a Different Choice

The topic of relationships is complex, and these insights by Mark Groves are just an intro into understanding healthy ones. Yet still, it’s a subject many of us are making an effort to learn more about. Sure, everyone has issues. But as adults, it’s our job to be cognizant of those obstacles and to work at healing them head on. If we aren’t and we don’t, we’ll carry our pains into new relationships that can carry over to succeeding generations. As Mark put it, “In all the moments in which you experience pain and triggers, you have wisdom that invites you to reevaluate. In everything you’re reacting to, there’s a different response that’s waiting for you.” It all comes down to how real you’re willing to get with yourself.

To learn more about Mark Groves and gain his expert relationship advice, you can follow him on Instagram @createthelove or view his latest TEDx Talk.

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