This post was brought to you by LunchClick.
This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on the psychology of relationships.
Today, as part of the series about the psychology of love, we’re going to talk about a psychologist named John Gottman, and his discovery of the one thing that predicts (with a 94% accuracy!) whether or not couples are going to stay together or break up.
In a recent report, Singapore’s Department of Statistics observed that the rates of divorce had risen since 2012. Thinking about it, that seems remarkably daunting: even those who say “till death do us part” at the altar don’t always make it, so how are the rest of us – who are at earlier stages in our relationships – gonna make it there at all?
Enter John Gottman. In 1986, he observed a number of newlywed couples interacting with each other and hooked them up to sensory equipment in the lab; six years later, he checked up with those couples to see what had happened, and if they were still together.
What he found was that couples who exhibited signs of physiological stress when interacting with each other in 1986 (increased heart rate and sweating, aggression) were divorced or chronically unhappy by 1972, whereas the couples who were calm and settled in each other’s presence were still going strong. The latter were the ones that Gottman called the masters of love – those people who had managed to hit on a way to keep their marriage fresh and loving all those years.
Couples who failed in marriage were those that Gottman called disasters – they refused to respond to their partners’ bids for attention and support.
Imagine this scene:
Your boyfriend or girlfriend says: “Hey, look at that book that girl’s reading! The title is “Hello Kitty Must Die”, sounds kinda cool.”
How do you respond to him or her?
a) “Yeah, I see it,” you mumble, texting your friend as you go.
b) “HAHAHA oh my god you’re right: I wonder what it’s about? What do you think?” you say, grinning at him or her.
c) “Yeah that reminds me of this other book that I read the other day! Did I tell you about it?” you answer.
d) “Eh actually arh, it sounds kinda stupid. Why would you want to read about Hello Kitty anyway?”
If you answered (b) or (c), congratulations – your boyfriend or girlfriend just made a bid for your attention and interest, and you responded by giving him or her those things. If you picked (a) or (d), you’ve just refused the bid, showing disinterest by providing the barest of acknowledgment – or worse, actual hostility, by putting your boy or girl down.
The important thing to note is that this bid wasn’t about something important. It was just an observation on the train – and many of us might be tempted to think that there’s no real problem with answering (a), because there’s nothing really at stake there (especially if you’re not just texting a friend, but emailing your boss about work on your Blackberry instead).
But the problem is this – even though you’re not expected to be a saint who responds flawlessly to every bid, over time, a pattern of repeatedly rejected bids leads to alienation and hostility, and may prevent your partner from confiding in you or becoming hostile to you in turn.
So, in order to keep your relationship healthy, bear these two things in mind:
1) Respond, even if it seems trivial or unimportant to you.
The fact that your boy or girl brought it up either means that it isn’t trivial to him or her, or that he or she just wants attention and affection at that moment. Either way, it’s on you to respond.
Besides, when your partner sees that you’re responsive to his or her needs, he or she will reciprocate as well, and your relationship will settle down into a virtuous pattern where both of you get the affirmation and solace you need from each other.
2) Be generous, especially when you’re angry.
Personally, I used to make this mistake all the time – in a quarrel, I’d just shut down my boyfriend and be dismissive of him entirely, saying things like “Yeah, whatever,” or “No, I can’t talk about this because I’m busy, even if you’re not. Yeah, I’m busy right now. Can’t you see I’m eating?” Stinging little things like that are too small to quarrel over, but they poison your relationship, and that’s something that I only realised after a while.
Now, instead, I believe that in the midst of anger is the time when you most need to reassure your partner that even if you’re mad about something, you’re not turning away from him or her entirely.
In short: practice hard at responding to your partner with affection and generosity: it’ll be the one thing that keeps your relationship strong and steady throughout the years!