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UF/IFAS expert available to offer relationship tips, advice for Valentine’s Day coverage

Victor Harris.  Family, Youth, and Community Sciences.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Whether you are in a blissfully happy, everything-runs-like-a-charm relationship or whether your significant other is your cat, the University of Florida’s Victor Harris – an expert in couples and premarital education – has tips to help strengthen your relationship.

Harris, an assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences at the University of Florida, says it’s a great time for relationship reflection.

Here are six tips from his arsenal:

  1. The old adage about never going to bed angry? It’s a marriage myth, he says. Sometimes it’s best to get some rest before your tired, cranky self says something you can’t take back. During those times when you’re most aggravated by your spouse, he suggests calming down for at least 30-minutes and taking at least a three-minute meditation break, focusing on the things you love most about your partner.
  2. The idea that marriage must always be a 50-50, straight-down-the-middle partnership? Also a myth. Many couples prosper and thrive with many different power balances and imbalances, he says. As long as both partners are happy, the balance works.
  3. Every couple needs rituals, both the everyday and special occasion varieties, he says. “Men seem to especially need a ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ touch. Basically, rituals help us increase positive bonds, which are a major aspect of the ongoing nurturing of friendship.” Rituals can include physical affection, gifts, keeping promises, acts of kindness, surprises and giving compliments. “The most important compliments are those that tell you ‘You are lovable and you are capable,’” Harris says.
  4. One of the easiest routes to a busted union is when couples don’t learn how to de-escalate a disagreement. Couples stuck in criticism-defensiveness-contempt-stonewalling mode are in big trouble, he warns. “For a relationship to work, researchers have found that you’ve got to have at least a 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions and experiences, and you’ve got to learn how to short-circuit the argument cycle before it becomes a mud fight.”
  5. If you’re wondering if your marriage is doomed: Find a couples therapist. Harris said some studies show that of couples who contemplate divorce but choose to stay together, more than 90 percent say later that they’re glad they did.
  6. And for singles looking to find someone with whom to celebrate future Valentine’s Days, Harris advises: “Besides just finding a hottie, as my students say, you need to find someone who fulfills your needs – and you do that by finding someone first who knows how to meet their own needs. Another big key is finding someone who can accept influence from you when you express what your needs and opinions are.”

Harris can be reached at 352-273-3523 or at Here are links to three more of his pertinent publications:  9 important communication skills for every relationship; 10 things you need to know before you get married, and Are you ready to tie the knot? A quick checklist