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What Makes a Successful Relationship?

masters of love

I recently read this article about the biggest predictors of relational success, and thought it painted one of the clearest applications I’d seen as to why some couples are so happy, and others are so not. What it comes down to is simple: kindness.

But it’s the science behind it that is most fascinating. Researchers conducted studies where they hooked couples up to electrodes and interviewed them. Couples that were happily married years later showed low arousal rates; they were comfortable sitting next to each other. But the couples that were either divorced or in unhappy marriages years later actually showed a fight-or-flight response when talking next to one another, even about mundane things.

Why? Researchers found that happy couples behaved in a few key ways that we can all implement in our relationships:

1. Respond to each other’s bids for connection.
Throughout the day, people routinely make small comments or ‘bids’ for their partner to respond to. They might comment on the weather or an article they read or something that happened at work. Happy couples respond with interest to even the smallest attempts at connection; whereas unhappy ones ignore each other’s comments, or respond with disinterest or annoyance.

2. Assume your partner has good intentions.
Whereas unhappy couples see something they dislike and immediately jump to their annoyance or frustration with their partner, happy couples routinely assume their partner had good intentions, even if they were poorly executed. They fight fair. They communicate frustration about the issue, not the partner.

3. Respond with genuine joy for each other’s successes.
When one partner shares good news, those in successful couples match the good news with delight and interest. In unsuccessful relationships, the partners act disinterested or even contradict the good news with doubt or negativity.

4. Practice kindness as a muscle.
Successful relationships make kindness and generosity part of their day-to-day practice. They seek out the best in their partner. Whereas kindness may come more easily to some people over others, happy couples routinely look for ways to express gratitude and appreciation for each other.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “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.”

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.

I highly recommend the entire article; there’s so much good stuff in there that illustrates each point. If you’d like, you may read it here.

P.S. Related: I loved my sister’s take on relationships. Plus more on kindness, asking the right questions to our loved ones, and giving good greetings.

{Photo via Our Space Between}

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