Every June day, the most popular wedding month of the year, approximately 13,000 American couples will say "Yes," committing to a lifelong relationship that will be filled with friendship, joy and love that will take them to their final days. on this earth. Except, of course, it does not work that way for most people. Most marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or turning into bitterness and dysfunction. Of all the people who marry, only three out of ten stay in healthy and happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Eternal Bliss.
Social scientists began to study marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: married couples divorced at an unprecedented rate. Concerned about the impact of these divorces on the children of broken marriages, psychologists decided to launch their scientific network to couples, take them to the laboratory to observe them and determine what were the ingredients of a healthy and lasting relationship. Every unhappy family was unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy said, or did all miserable marriages share something toxic in common?
The psychologist John Gottman was one of those researchers. Over the past four decades, he has studied thousands of couples in a quest to discover what makes relationships work. I recently had the opportunity to interview Gottman and his wife Julie, also a psychologist, in New York City. Together, the renowned experts in marital stability direct the Gottman Institute, which is dedicated to helping couples build and maintain loving and healthy relationships based on scientific studies.
John Gottman began to gather his most critical findings in 1986, when he created "The Love Lab" with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson took the newlyweds to the lab and saw them interact with each other. With a team of researchers, they connected the couples to the electrodes and asked them to talk about their relationship, for example, how they met, a great conflict they faced together and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the blood flow of the subjects, the heart rate and the amount of sweat they produced. Then, the researchers sent the couples home and followed them six years later to see if they were still together.
From the data they collected, Gottman separated the couples into two main groups: teachers and disasters. The teachers were still happy together after six years. The disasters had broken or they were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When researchers analyzed the data they gathered about couples, they saw clear differences between teachers and disasters. The disasters seemed calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. His heart rate was fast, his sweat glands were active and his blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman discovered that the more physiologically active the couples were in the laboratory, the faster their relationships deteriorated over time. But what does physiology have to do with something? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of excitement (of being in fight or flight mode) in their relationships. Having a conversation next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like confronting a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they spoke of pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This caused his heart rate to shoot up and make them more aggressive to each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a very excited husband could tell his wife: "Why do not you start talking about your day?" It will not take you long. "
The teachers, on the other hand, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected, which translated into a warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It is not that teachers had, by default, a better physiological composition than disasters; is that the teachers created a climate of trust and intimacy that made them feel emotionally and emotionally more comfortable.
Gottman wanted to know more about how teachers created that culture of love and intimacy, and how disasters crushed it. In a follow-up study in 1990, he designed a lab on the campus of the University of Washington to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast retreat. He invited 130 couples of newlyweds to spend the day in this retreat and observed them while doing what they normally do on vacation: cooking, cleaning, listening to music, eating, talking and hanging out. And Gottman made a critical discovery in this study, one that goes to the heart of why some relationships thrive while others languish.
Throughout the day, partners would make connection requests, what Gottman calls "offers." For example, let's say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notes that a goldfinch flies through the yard. He could tell his wife: "Look at that beautiful bird that is outside!" Not only is he commenting on the bird that is here: he is requesting an answer from his wife, a sign of interest or support, hoping that they will connect, even for a moment, to the bird.
The wife now has a choice. She can respond by "turning to" or "walking away" from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Although the bird offer may seem smaller and dumb, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought that the bird was important enough to talk about and the question is whether his wife recognizes him and respects him.
The people who turned to their colleagues in the study responded by involving the bidder, showing interest and support in the offer. Those who did not, those who turned around, did not respond or respond minimally and continued to do what they were doing, such as watching television or reading the newspaper. Sometimes they responded with overt hostility and said something like: "Stop interrupting me, I'm reading."
These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who divorced after a six-year follow-up had a "turn toward offers" 33 percent of the time. Only three out of ten of their emotional connection offers met with intimacy. The couples who stayed together after six years had "approached the offers" 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they met the emotional needs of their partner. By observing these types of interactions, Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples, heterosexual or homosexual, rich or poor, without children or not, will separate, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of this is reduced to the spirit that couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity? Or contempt, criticism and hostility?
"There is a mental habit teachers have," Gottman explained in an interview, "which is this: they are exploring the social environment in search of things they can appreciate and thank them for, they are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. The disasters are analyzing the social environment in search of errors of the partners ".
"It's not just a scanning environment," interjected Julie Gottman. "It is scanning the couple for what the couple is doing well or scanning for what they are doing wrong and criticizing rather than respecting and expressing appreciation." Contempt, they have discovered, is the number one factor that tear couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of the positive things their partners do and see negativity when they are not there. People who give cold shoulder to their partner, deliberately ignoring or responding minimally, damage the relationship by making your partner feel useless and invisible, as if they were not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill love in the relationship, but also kill their partner's ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being bad is the death sentence of relationships. Kindness, on the other hand, unites tails. Independent research of his has shown that goodness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel caring, understood and validated, feel loved. "My generosity is as unlimited as the sea," says Juliet of Shakespeare. "My love so deep; the more I give you, the more I have, because both are infinite. "This is how goodness works too: there is much evidence that shows that the more someone receives or witnesses the goodness, the more they will be kind themselves, leading to Spirals Ascents of love and There are two ways of thinking about goodness. You can consider it as a fixed feature: either you have it or not. Or you could think of goodness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in all people who exercise. Teachers tend to think of goodness as a muscle. They know they have to exercise it to stay in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires hard and sustained work. "If your partner expresses a need," Julie Gottman explained, "and you are tired, stressed or distracted, then the generous spirit appears when a couple makes an offer and still addresses their partner." At that moment, the easy answer may be to get away from your partner and concentrate on your iPad or your book or television, mutter "Uh huh" and move on with your life, but neglecting little moments of emotional connection will slowly wear down. away from your relationship. Neglect creates distance between partners and generates resentment in the one being ignored.
The most difficult time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight, but this is also the most important time to be kind. Leaving contempt and aggression out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.
"Kindness does not mean we do not express our anger," Julie Gottman explained, "but kindness tells us how we choose to express anger, you can throw spears at your partner, or you can explain why you are hurt and angry, and that is the way more friendly ". John Gottman elaborated these spears: "Disasters will say things differently in a fight. Disasters will say "You're late, what's wrong with you, you're the same as your mother." Masters will say: "I feel bad for talking to you about your delay, and I know it's not your fault, but it's really annoying that you're late again."
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For the hundreds of thousands of couples who will marry this month, and for the millions of couples who are currently together, married or not, the lesson of the research is clear: if you want to have a stable and healthy relationship, exercise goodness early and frequently. When people think of practicing kindness, they often think of small acts of generosity, such as buying small gifts or rubbing from time to time. While those are excellent examples of generosity, kindness can also be integrated into the very backbone of a relationship through the way partners interact with each other day to day, whether there are rubs and chocolates. One way to practice kindness is to be generous with your partner's intentions. From the Gottmans' research, we know that disasters see negativity in their relationship, even when it is not there. An angry wife can assume, for example, that when her husband left the toilet seat upstairs, he was deliberately trying to bother her. But he may just have absentmindedly forgotten to lower the seat. Or let's say a wife is late for dinner (again), and the husband assumes that she does not value him enough to get to his appointment in time after he took the trouble to make a reservation and leave work early so they could spend a romantic evening together But it turns out that the wife arrived late because she stopped at a store to pick up a gift for her special night. Imagine that he joins him for dinner, excited to give him his gift, only to realize that he is in a bad mood because he misunderstood what motivated his behavior. The ability to interpret the actions and intentions of your partner in a charitable way can soften the sharp edge of the conflict. "Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it is almost always the case that there are positive things and people who try to do the right thing," psychologist Ty Tashiro told me. "A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing, even if it goes wrong, so he appreciates the intention."
Another powerful strategy of kindness revolves around shared joy. One of the telltale signs of the disaster that Gottman's couples studied was their inability to connect with each other's good news. When one person in the relationship shared the good news of, say, a promotion at work with enthusiasm, the other would respond with a wooden disinterest by checking his watch or closing the conversation with a comment like, "That's fine."
We have all heard that partners must be present for each other when things get difficult. But research shows that being there for each other when things are going well is actually more important for the quality of the relationship. The way someone responds to the good news of a partner can have dramatic consequences for the relationship.
In a 2006 study, psychological researcher Shelly Gable and her colleagues brought young adult couples to the lab to talk about the latest positive developments in their lives. The psychologists wanted to know how the partners would respond to the good news of each one. They discovered that, in general, couples responded to the good news of each of the four forms they called: passive destructive, active destructive, constructive passive and constructive active. Let's say that a classmate had recently received the excellent news that she entered medical school. She would say something like "I got into the most chosen medical school!"
If his partner responded in a passive destructive manner, he would ignore the event. For example, I could say something like: "You would not believe the great news I received yesterday! I won a free shirt! If his partner responded in a passive and constructive way, he would recognize the good news, but in a half-hearted and unenthusiastic way. A typical passive constructive response is to say "That's great, baby," as he sends a text message to his friend on his phone. In the third type of active, destructive response, the couple would diminish the good news they just received: "Are you sure you can handle the whole study? And what about the cost? Medical school is so expensive! Finally, there is an active constructive response. If her partner responded in this way, she stopped doing what she was doing and committed wholeheartedly to her: "That's great! Congratulations! When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes will you take the first semester? Among the four response styles, the active constructive response is the kindest. While the other response styles are killers of joy, the active and constructive response allows the couple to savor their joy and gives them the opportunity to bond with the good news. In the language of the Gottmans, the active and constructive response is a way of "turning" towards the offer of its partners (sharing the good news) instead of "moving away" from it.
Active constructive response is critical for healthy relationships. In the 2006 study, Gable and his colleagues followed up with the couples two months later to see if they were still together. Psychologists discovered that the only difference between couples who were together and those who broke was an active constructive response. Those who showed a genuine interest in the joys of their partner were more likely to be together. In a previous study, Gable discovered that active constructive response was also associated with a higher quality of relationship and greater intimacy among partners.
There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it is often a break in goodness. As the normal stresses of a life together accumulate (with children, career, friends, in-laws and other distractions that capture the moment of romance and intimacy), couples can put less effort into their relationship and let small complaints that they have against each other destroy them. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction decrease drastically in the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.
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Fuente: theatlantic.com By EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She is the author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters.