Continual Kindness: The Key to Lasting Love
Jun 01, 2016 11:29AM
by Christy Tromp
There have been many counselors, doctors, researchers and others who have struggled with the mystery of love and relationships. Why some can make it work for only a short period of time, while others last for a lifetime?
Gottman, a well-known modern researcher, wanted to understand the culture of love and intimacy, as well as which factors can cause its demise. In the late 1990s, Gottman conducted a study during which he designed a lab on the University of Washington campus to resemble bed and breakfast retreat. He invited 130 newlywed couples to spend the day at this retreat and observed them cook, clean, listen to music, eat, chat and simply spend time together. Consequently, Gottman made a critical discovery in this study—one that gets at the heart of why some relationships thrive, while others languish.
Throughout the day, some partners made requests for connection––what Gottman called “bids.” For example, if the husband was a bird enthusiast and noticed a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might’ve said to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He didn’t just comment on the bird. Instead, he requested a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over that bird.
At this point, the wife now had a choice to respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman described the situation. Although the “bird-bid” might seem minor and silly, it can actually offer insight into a relationship’s overall health. The husband thought the bird was important enough to mention in conversation, but the question remains whether his wife recognizes and respects that.
People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who turned away, however, would not respond or respond minimally, then continue doing watching TV or reading a book. Sometimes, they would respond with overt hostility, telling their partner to “stop interrupting.”
These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who divorced after a six-year follow up demonstrated a “turn-toward bid” just 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they consistently met their partner’s emotional needs.
By observing these types of interactions, Gottman predicted with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—would end up separated, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of these results were based on the spirit couples brought to the relationship. Did they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism and hostility?
Contempt is the primary factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss about 50 percent of positive attributes their partners possess, seeing only negativity. People who give their partner the cold shoulder—deliberately ignoring or responding minimally—damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticism, not only diminish love, but also inhibit their partner's ability to fight off viruses and cancers, according to a study conducted by Ohio State University. Therefore, toxic attitudes are often the “death knell” of relationships.
Kindness, however, glues couples together. Research 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, validated and, ultimately, loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” said Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness operates––another study from Princeton University showed the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves which yields upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.
Want to experience a long-lasting and satisfying relationship? Engage your significant other in the areas they want to share with you. Let kindness and generosity be your driving force, and don’t give contempt or hostility a foothold in this precious relationship. Treat your partner as your best friend, and you will surely enjoy true love to the end.
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