Two Traits Every Marriage Needs to Survive
The statistics don’t lie. Of all the couples that get married every year only 50% will stay together for the rest of their days. And for those that avoid divorce the numbers aren’t much better. As much as 70% of all marriages that last become dysfunctional or even destructive over time.
So what do those lucky 30% have that other couples don’t? Is their love somehow more remarkable than the rest?
According to experts, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, all lasting relationships have two essential qualities: kindness and generosity.
Yes, it’s really that simple.
Uncovering the Key to a Loving and Lasting Relationship
For the last 40 years, psychologist Dr. John Gottman has tried to figure out why some marriages endure and others don’t. Now running the Gottman Institute with his wife in New York City, they devote their time to helping couples improve their partnership. He recently sat down with The Atlantic to reveal the key to a loving and lasting relationship.
The Physiology Tells All
Gottman’s work began at the University of Washington back in the eighties where he and his team of researchers ran studies on newlyweds. Hooking them up to electrodes, they would to monitor the couples’ physiology while asking them questions related to their relationship.
The researchers labeled the subjects who remained happily together as “masters” and those in dysfunctional relationships as “disasters”.
While the outward demeanor of the “disasters” remained calm during questioning, the physiological readings told a different story. In the process of speaking about their partner they demonstrated elevated heart rate and blood flow as well as over active sweat glands. The “disasters” literally experienced flight-or-fight mode when discussing their significant other.
On the contrary, the “masters” showed little physiological arousal. They remained calm even when reflecting on past arguments. These couples succeeded in creating an atmosphere of trust and intimacy together.
Answering Each Other’s Bids for Connection
Gottman and his colleagues wanted to figure out the key to building this climate of love and trust. In follow-up studies, Gottman created a lab where he could observe the daily interactions between couples. He noticed that throughout the day, each person made attempts to connect with their partner. These attempts, or “bids” as Gottman called them, could be as mundane as calling attention to the weather outside. Through these bids, each person sought acknowledgement or support from his partner. The partner then would have two responses. Either she would stop what she was doing and give her attention or would react minimally and ignore her partner’s bid.
A seemingly small gesture but one with significant results. The researchers noticed that the happy couples gave their attention with far more frequency than the unhappy ones. Those who stayed married had a positive response rate of 87%. Those who wound up divorced after 6 years gave their attention a mere 33% of the time.
Gottman noticed that this generosity of spirit continued into all facets of successful relationships. The masters respected and appreciated their partner on a daily basis. They looked for what the partner contributed to the relationship and what she did right.
The disasters on the other hand viewed their partners through more cynical lenses and focused mainly on their partners’ faults.
This contempt had a deteriorating affect on the couples’ well being. The disasters missed as much as 50% of the positive things their partners brought to the relationship.
The Nurturing Spirit of Kindness
Gottman noticed that the masters made a daily habit of practicing kindness in the relationship. And by giving more they also received more from their partner. Most importantly this practice of generosity and kindness continued even when the couple felt tired and worn down. Each partner recognized that kindness was a muscle that needed to be exercised often. Relationships are work after all and those who succeed at them recognize this fact.
The masters even treated their partners more kindly when angry.
Fighting and anger are a normal and inevitable fact of any relationship. But how one reacts to their significant other when upset made a world of difference on the health of the relationship.
When upset the masters would express their feelings and explain why their partner’s actions hurt them. The disasters, on the other hand, would attack their partner and throw out accusations of blame. As Gottman explained:
“Disasters will say things differently in a fight. Disasters will say ‘You’re late. What’s wrong with you? You’re just like your mom.’ Masters will say ‘I feel bad for picking on you about your lateness, and I know it’s not your fault, but it’s really annoying that you’re late again.’”
The Power of Shared Joy
Yet another important way couples need to practice kindness is by showing support over good news.
Many people understand how necessary it is to be there for your partner when the going gets tough. But it turns out it is just as crucial to be supportive when things go well, if not more so. The masters showed genuine happiness when their partners succeeded. The disasters showed indifference or even openly negative responses.
Marriages and partnerships break down for a number of reasons. But the majority of divorces result from simply a failure of kindness and generosity between partners.
And let’s face it. Happier people experience gratitude on a daily basis. Why not throw some of that appreciation towards your partner as well and reap the benefits in your own marriage?