Over the years, as the divorce rate has climbed, so too has research in trying to understand what makes a marriage last and what makes some marriages last longer than others. Some of the most interesting studies to emerge have been conducted by John M. Gottman Ph.Di.
Gottman is a psychologist who has been researching couples since the 1980’s. He has published 190 academic articles and authored or co-authored 40 books, several of which are influential best sellers. Based on his research he has been able to model a couple’s behavioural interactions to a degree which has allowed him to predict with 94% accuracy which couples are likely to divorce and which are likely to stay together.
Kindness and Understanding
One of the surprising conclusions which he has reached has been that a key predictor of how well a couple can sustain their marriage in the long term lies in the kindness and compassion which is inherent in their interactions.
In every interaction between a couple, each partner will often extend a “bid” for interaction. So if the husband points out of the window and says “Oh look, there’s a bird out there”, he is inviting his wife to participate in an interaction with him. These “bids” occur multiple times during the day. At each point, the other partner has a choice to either respond positively by demonstrating an interest in what the original bidding partner has to say, or respond either negatively or not at all.
Gottman found that in couples who were most likely to stay together, that responses to bids by each other were met positively. In other words, even if the wife might not be interested in birds, she would, out of kindness and an attempt to understand her husband more, be more likely to say “really, what sort of bird is that?” as opposed to either ignoring the statement or saying something negative like “if you would stop looking at the birds, maybe you would be able to finish clearing out the garage sooner”.
This quality of kindness and understanding carries over to conflicts as well. Couples who have positive attitudes such as these are much better at managing conflicts and resolving problems in a healthy and relationship-affirming way.
What Can You Do Today to Make a Difference?
Demonstrating a greater degree of kindness, compassion and understanding in our day to day interactions, and making a genuine attempt to connect positively whenever possible is the key to a long and fulfilling marriage. There are several positive behaviours which you and your spouse can re-inforce in your marriage today which will help you to make a difference in the long run.
Listen with Attention
When your spouse opens up or initiates a conversation with you, pay attention. Turn towards them and listen to what they are sharing. Respond positively and with interest. It is a way to demonstrate a willingness to understand your spouse and to grow closer to each other.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and hold hands, give a hug or demonstrate your affection in other ways. Actions are just as important as words in a marriage, and the power of touch to communicate your feelings should never be underestimated.
Ask about each other’s day. Be concerned and caring. Try to understand and empathise with your partner through the ups and downs of daily life.
Show Your Appreciation
When your spouse does something for you, whether it’s something as routine as ironing your shirts or something as special as organizing a special dinner at your favourite restaurant, take the time to tell them that you really appreciate the thoughtfulness and love that motivated their actions.
Accept Each Other
Don’t view your spouse as a “makeover” project. For better or for worse you fell in love and married each other. This means that somewhere within the differences and similarities that make you a couple, there is a core within your spouse which you inherently love and cherish. Accept that this sometimes comes with other habits which may not be quite as loveable, but which you should accept anyway as together, they make your spouse the person he or she is.
Celebrate Your Joys Together
When something good happens to your spouse, celebrate it together. Don’t hold back in rejoicing in their successes. Share your own joys and triumphs too. Let your spouse know that you are happy when they grow and are recognised as individuals too.