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Will your relationship last? Thanks to longitudinal studies of thousands of couples and emerging research on partnerships, one answer to this question is becoming apparent. Why some couples stick together is a science which can be studied and learnt. David Bowie & Iman, his wife of 24 years (pictured) are one of many couples who have mastered the skills of making a relationship last. Dr. Sue Johnson‘s book “Love Sense” explains what scientific research has shown us about making love last.
Psychologists say there are many behaviors, such as how a couple talks and fights and even the type of dates they go on, that can be learned and practiced — and can give a pair a fighting chance at “’til death do us part”. Drs John & Julie Gottman’s forty years of research have a lot to teach us about these essential couples skills.
Many of the ways to strengthen a relationship’s chances of survival are surprisingly simple. But they need to be practiced often and daily.
What does actually work? According to the latest research:
Know that a little goes a long way
In the Early Years of Marriage Project, Dr. Terri Orbuch found that three quarters of the happy couples reported that their partners frequently made them feel cared for or special, while less than half of the unhappy couples reported the same. “Doing or saying small things frequently to make your partner feel special, cared for and loved … is very predictive of staying together, being happy and [preventing] divorce,” she says. These “positive affirmations” can be as simple as tucking a nice note in your partner’s wallet or giving a shoulder rub after a long day at work.
Men seem to need these affirmations most
Men who didn’t feel affirmed by their partners were twice as likely to separate as those who did. The same effect didn’t hold true for women. Orbuch suggests that women frequently get this from other people in their lives so men especially need it from their female partners or wives,” she says. In same sex couples, these needs are also present. So give frequent affirmations to your partner to let them know you believe in them and that they are special to you, and that you are each other’s friend.
Dr. John Gottman, PhD, founder of the Gottman Institute and the University of Washington’s Love Lab, says that 69 percent of marital conflict never gets resolved. But research shows it’s how couples handle those inevitable sore spots that matters. “The people who have stable, happy relationships are much gentler with one another than people who have unhappy relationships or break up,” says Gottman. “They’re kinder, they’re more considerate, they soften the way they raise a complaint.”
Talk about more than the dishes
But nice talk isn’t enough, says Orbuch. It also matters what you talk about. “Most couples think they’re communicating with one another, but what they’re really talking about is what I call ‘maintaining the household,’ she says, or detailing to-do lists and divvying up chores. The happiest couples also share their hopes, dreams and fears. “They’re spending time getting to know one another,” Orbuch says. Gottman calls this ‘the existential area’. Conversing about “who are we, what’s our mission and what’s our legacy” creates shared meaning and purpose in the relationship, he says.
Celebrate good times
Other research suggests that supporting a spouse when times are good might go further than doing so when life is difficult. The researchers explain that by comparing it to a fire alarm: Testing the alarm to find it works makes you happier and more satisfied than discovering it works because there is a fire. At that point, the distress of the fire distracts from the appreciation of the alarm. Celebrating the good times is like appreciating what you have – it’s a wonderful preventative measure which boosts relationship health and happiness.
Few factors undermine a relationship more than boredom, says Orbuch. Growing used to your partner is natural, but it’s a process that can be slowed down, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, and author of the 2013 book “The Myths of Happiness.” Psychologists say the answer can be summed up in three words: novelty, variety and surprise.
By trying new and exciting activities together, couples can rekindle feelings similar to ones they once had, Lyubomirsky says. The technique supports another study: that spouses were more satisfied with their relationships when they were told to go on more exciting dates, such as hiking or going to parties. Those who succumbed to the safer movie-rental routine didn’t reap the same benefits.
Know that love is not enough
Perhaps the most important lesson relationship research has taught us is that a committed relationship, like any other commitment, takes conscious effort to preserve, says Nicholas Kirsch, PhD, a couples therapist. “So many people do lifelong training in so many things. And somehow, there’s this belief that we don’t have to work at learning how to be a couple, it should just come naturally,” he says. “That, to me, is just very backwards.”
And the earlier you acquire the tools to maintain a relationship, the better, adds Gottman, who estimates that newlyweds who engage in his programs are three times more likely to succeed than those who wait until they need an intervention. “What makes love last is cherishing your partner and feeling lucky that you have this person in your life,” he says. “That act of cherishing is something that some couples build.”
Adapted from: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/04/marriage.aspx
Photo credit : http://bfanyc.com/people/david-bowie–2
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