The Secret To A Lasting Relationship Is…
What do you think is the most important quality for a relationship that lasts? Love? Respect? Compatibility? All those things are nice, but according to this article on The Atlantic, the thing that will carry two people toward a happy, functional, lifelong relationship is kindness.
Psychologist John Gottman and his wife, Julie, also a psychologist, run The Gottmann Institute, which is devoted to helping couples build and maintain loving, healthy relationships based on scientific studies.
John Gottmann started his gathering his most important research in 1986 when he and a colleague set up “The Love Lab” at the University of Washington. The researchers brought in newlyweds, hooked them up to electrodes, and observed how they interacted with each other. The couples were asked questions about their relationship like how they met and positive memories they had. The electrodes measured the subjects’ blood flow, heart rates, and sweat production.
Gottmann and his colleague followed up with the couples six years later to see if they were still together. They divided couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still together and still happy, while the disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their relationships. From looking at the data, Gottmann found that the more physiologically active the couples were as they discussed their relationships, the quicker those relationships deteriorated over time.
What Gottmann further discovered was that even though the disasters looked calm, their increased physiological responses were indicators of them being in fight-or-flight mode. Even when talking about pleasant or mundane topics, they were prepared to attack or be attacked. Their physiological responses made them more aggressive toward one another.
On the other hand, the masters had low arousal. They were calm and connected, which built warmth and affectionate behavior. The masters had created a climate of trust that allowed them to be emotionally and physically comfortable.
Gottmann wanted to learn more about how masters created love and intimacy and how disasters crushed it. Further research indicated that partners who were kind as a matter of course are more likely to have happy relationships. He can predict with up to 94% certainty whether couples will be broken up or together because of the spirit that they bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness or contempt? Not surprisingly, contempt is the number one factor that tears couples apart.
Gottmann explains: “There’s a habit of mind that the masters have, which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
Julie Gottmann adds, “It’s not just scanning environment. It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”
This article—which is worth reading for your own insight—is probably the best I’ve read in a while about relationship quality. It’s amazing how much being kind to one’s partner is critical to the relationship’s success and, in fact, can predict it’s longevity. The couples that last are the ones that can weather the inevitable storms of life with generosity despite the drama.
Am I always good at the kindness thing in my marriage? Probably not—there’s always room for improvement and I’m sure I have plenty of room. My husband and I have been married for almost 10 years and this provides good inspiration to be a master going forward.
What do you think? How can you be a master in your own relationship? Share your thoughts below.