Good news! there is not just one type of couple that is well-functioning! According to the research of John Gottman, there are at least three distinct types of couples who can be successfully mated, the volatile couple, the validating couple, and the avoiding couple.
Each one of these types has a particular set of characteristics that make them distinct but compatible. These are how high the disclosure needs are, how emotional they are, how they see conflict, and what they focus on in the relationship. See below for more details.
The Volatile Couple
For this couple, conflict represents an opportunity to express the internal life of an individual, a moment of deeper connection. Volatile couples value their individuality and have a high need to feel free to express their disagreements. They see the point of contention as representative of where they differ from each other. They are passionate and when in conflict defense patterns may be pursue-pursue, which means they may have raised voices, gesticulate wildly, and follow each other around to get answers and heard.
Successful Volatile Couples also soothe each other, use humor, and appreciate the other partner’s expressiveness while in a conflict. They also can take turns talking and listening and know they need to take time outs to rest ocassionally when a conflict goes on for awhile.
The Avoidant Couple
Avoidant couples are lower in disclosure and tend to minimize marital conflict. Similar to Volatile Couples, they value independence but uniquely, they are often distant from each other, demonstrating less sharing and companionship between partners than the other two types. But they are highly invested in the commitment aspect of partnering; thus, they tend to minimize problems and focus on the strengths of marriage.
Successful Avoidant Couples will often end conversation on note of solidarity, demonstrating the choice they have made to be together. They also
The Validating Couple
Validating couples typically avoid conflict unless there was a very serious issue. They rely on the marital friendship to weather conflicts and when in conflict, they look and sound very different from volatile couples–they rarely shout or become impassioned, they display minimal vocal responses (such as “mmmmhmmm” or “yeah”) when listening and these are done to illustrate support of the other partner and to tell the partner they are being understood. I have yet to see this type of couple in session and there may be a reason for that beyond coincidence.
WHICH IS BEST
Research has shown that Validating partners have a higher level of couple satisfaction than Avoidant and Volatile Couples, respectively (Holman & Jarvis, 2003). This partner type is more invested in the we-ness than the me-ness (Volatile & Avoidant Couples promote me-ness), so it would appear that working on being more collaborative and strength focused can help partners enjoy each other more.
Trouble can arise when partners are mismatched. Gottman’s research suggest that when certain mixes are paired, withdrawer-pursuer patterns are more difficult to manage: Withdrawer-pursuer patterns are just as they sound, one partner tries to communicate with a partner that has stonewalled or shut down and these roles are fairly consistent in the relationship.
1. What type of partnership do I think I have?
2. How important is it to me to "be heard?" What about my partner?
3. What small changes could I make to be more collaborative?
4. Do we have a pursue withdraw-pattern when in conflict?
Gottman, J. M. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy (1st ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.
Holman, T. B., & Jarvis, M. O. (2003). Hostile, volatile, avoiding, and validating couple-conflict types: An investigation of Gottman’s couple-conflict types. Personal Relationships, 10(2), 267–282. doi:10.1111/1475-6811.00049