In the 1970’s, social scientists started studying marriages to determine what made relationships healthy and long-lasting. One of them, psychologist John Gottman, set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. They invited newlyweds into the lab and recorded their physical response (i.e., blood flow, heart rate, sweat production) to questions about their relationship. Six years later they checked back with them to see if they were still couples.
From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters (still happily together) and the disasters (no longer together or were unhappy in their marriages). How were they different? They found that disasters looked calm on the outside, but inside they were in the fight-or-flight mode, meaning they were in an attack or aggressive mode. The masters, on the other hand, had created a climate where they were emotionally and physically comfortable.
How did the masters create happy marriages? Further research showed it was because they worked hard to respect each other. They paid close attention to each other by listening and responding with full attention each time the partner spoke, even if it seemed like a trivial matter like, “Look at that beautiful bird outside.”
So, in practical terms this means that if your partner says something to you and you’re tempted to ignore her or to say, “Don’t interrupt me, I’m reading.” Stop yourself, put your book down, and pay close attention to your partner. Here are some other bits of advice from the article:
- Listen and make eye contact when your partner speaks.
- Be generous and look for ways to practice acts of kindness.
- Speak kindly, never attack.
- Avoid indifference, contempt and a critical attitude.
- Don’t assume the worst or jump to conclusions.
- Look for the positive and overlook the negative.
- Appreciate the intent, knowing he or she is trying to do the right thing.
- Share the joy and be excited about your partner’s successes. (According to another psychologist researcher, Shelly Gable, this is the most important determining factor for a successful marriage.)
- Avoid being a kill-joy.
It all boils down to two basic traits for a successful relationship – kindness and generosity.
Think of them as muscles that need to be made stronger through use. It may be uncomfortable at first, but with practice it will become easier and more rewarding as your partner feels loved, understood, and validated. You’ll find that what you give will come back to you in time.
Do you feel as if your marriage is on shaky ground and you need help in mending it? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please feel free to contact my office and schedule an appointment. I want to help you to create a happy and successful relationship.
Read more on my website: Marriage Advice.