Romanticism has done heaps of harm when it comes to living a successful love life. Yes, you read me correctly. It’s set us up for believing that true love should simply feel “right”, that our soul mates will intuit our needs and respond the way we want them to, and never an unkind word will sully their lips, let alone be lobbed in our general direction. Yet when those magical, cocaine-like feelings of infatuation fade, and we begin to notice our partner’s terrible flaws, love in the hands of an amateur is destined for a crisis.
Let’s face it: we are all imperfect creatures, and in the early stages of love we give each other so much positive regard that we are blind to the things that will eventually drive us nuts; when he leaves the toilet seat up or she fails to put the cap back on the toothpaste. Far worse, however, is the point of behavioural pessimism, when we view any objectionable action taken by our lover as one conducted with intentional thoughtlessness. This ushers in the poisonous vapor of contempt, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse when it comes to long term love.
You might believe it difficult to quantify the behaviors that can make or break a partnership, but one team of researchers seems to have cracked the code for marital bliss. It’s not so much the behaviours themselves as how many. It’s called The Magic Ratio.
American psychologist John Gottman, PhD, says he can predict with 94 percent accuracy which couples will divorce simply by observing their day day-to-day interactions. The magic ratio is 5:1, and the couples who achieve it he calls the “Masters of Marriage”. It manifests like this: for every one negative interaction, the successful couple demonstrates five positive ones. So it’s not as though happy couples don’t fight, it’s just that they either fight nice, with intact positive regard, or they have fantastic make-up sex and plenty of affirmations in the aftermath.
“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important, they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections,” says Dr Gottman. “But a lot of people don’t know how to connect or how to build a sense of humor, and this means that a lot of fighting that couples engage in is a failure to make emotional connections. We wouldn’t have known this without the mathematical model.”
This model wasn’t based on an observer’s subjective deductions. Gottman had these couples hooked up to monitors that measured their heart rates, sweat glands and blood flow, all things that indicate physical arousal. And no, not the kind that gets your knickers wet (not until it’s time to make up, anyway). We’re talking emotional stress. And your stress response can’t lie. Even if you’re speaking to your partner in measured, even tones, if your insides are screaming, “You asshole!” you’ve got a problem.
The best ways to add to the five and temper the one? Basic stuff. Like being nice. Which might appear to be a dying art given all the snarkiness out there (I’m really, very sorry about Donald Trump, my dear British friends). But really, kindness is the key to every relationship and our close ones shouldn’t get short shrift when it comes to doling it out. There’s also expressing affection, whether that’s a gesture or a remark, sharing time together, showing appreciation and gratitude (“Dang you look hot when you cook for me.”), celebrating your partner’s achievements and showing them genuine admiration.
If you want to read more about the data driven keys to long-term love, this article from The Atlantic about Gottman’s research is a great place to start. Gottman has also written several books on the topic of sound relationships whether they be with your partner, your kids or your work colleagues.
So turn on your connection radar when it comes to interacting with your loved ones. I bet by the end of the day if you’ve complimented, admired and touched your partner, you’re going to feel better and might end up doing more together than simply watching the telly.
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