… boils down to 2 qualities –
Kindness & Generosity
A team of researchers hooked couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship: how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, electrodes measured the subject’s blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them 6 years later to see if they were still together.
From the data they gathered, John Gottman (and team) separated the couples into two major groups: the Masters and the Disasters. The masters were still happily together after 6 years. The disasters had either broken up or were unhappy in their marriages.
One fact they found interesting: The more physiologically active the couples were in the experimental lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time. Now we’re not talking “aroused” as in “sexually attracted”. We’re talking about being in fight-or-flight mode. Having a conversation, sitting next to their partner was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger! They didn’t feel safe with each other. Conversely, the masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy. They were more emotionally comfortable.
How did the masters create a culture of love and intimacy?
All people make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” The Other could respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away.”
Though the connection-bid might seem minor and silly to One partner, the Other partner apparently thought it was important enough to share, and the question is whether the partner recognizes and respects that.
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 Gottman has shown that kindness, along with emotional stability, are the most important predictors of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated.
There’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to love and generosity in a relationship. Please note: this means that one partner can bring out goodness in the other – by way of example.
Gottman gives an example: “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 being late, and I know it’s not your fault, but it’s really annoying that you’re late again.’”
Masters appear to take the time to choose their words. They don’t ignore their feelings like some Disasters do (only to blow up later). They own their perceptions and approach the partner with a desire to share and solve the problem. Disasters will often approach as though they are an expert on the other and there is no invitation for a discussion.
Couples can learn to communicate with respect. They can learn about connection-bids. But they have to be motivated.
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