Love is all about feelings, right? We lead with our hearts and ignore our heads. Not exactly. It turns out there is a lot of physiology and psychology involved in falling in love and maintaining relationships. If you want to make yours last, you might want to read up on current scientific findings.
Husband and wife psychologists John and Julie Gottman, who study marriage stability and run The Gottman Institute, have spent 30 years learning about what makes relationships last. Amazingly enough, they’ve been able to disseminate years of research and identify just two traits that determine relationship success.
After studying hundreds of couples in a “love lab” located at the University of Washington, Gottman and his colleagues determined how to predict how long couples would stay together, with 94 percent accuracy, just by watching for certain behaviors. The two traits most important in making your relationship last: kindness and generosity.
What? That’s too simple, right? Kindness and generosity are traits taught to toddlers then reinforced throughout life. Applying them to marriage and long-term loving, intimate relationships is more complex, but the basic idea still applies.
The Gottmans talk about “masters” and “disasters” as they categorize couples. The masters have learned to apply kindness and generosity to nearly every interaction they have with their spouses, while disasters employ hostility and contempt instead.
Consider how you respond when you reconnect with your spouse after a long day. Are you genuinely interested in the events of his day, mundane or exciting? I’ve run into this with my husband. He knows a lot about accounting and financial empirical research. I know almost nothing. Rather than tune out and literally “turn away” from him, something the Gottmans tracked, I’ve tried to gain a basic grasp of his work and world economics so that we can have discussions.
My willingness to learn and his patience with my ignorance of things that are simple to him have allowed us to grow closer over something that is crucial to both of our lives: his career. This example shows both kindness and generosity.
Another example: Your wife leaves her clothes all over the closet floor causing you to have to step over a big mess to reach your clothing. This bothers you. It’s important to remember that your spouse doesn’t have malice in mind when she does something that annoys you. Perhaps your wife had to leave quickly to get the kids to school on time or had to take an important phone call. As you discuss issues with kindness, leaving criticism out of the conversation, you show generosity by giving your loved one the benefit of the doubt.
Developing the traits of kindness and generosity in your relationship will take effort and time. It’s important to be kind not only during difficult times, like during an argument or when you feel stress, but also during the happy times, like when your spouse has success in her career or reaches an important goal. Employing kindness and generosity throughout life means you’ll be a master of your meaningful relationship with the one you love.