Several studies have come up with an answer: that it comes down to sharing kindness and generosity. That might seem over-simplified; surely most people would prefer that the spouse were both kind and generous? But in the research of John Gottman and Robert Levenson at the University of Washington, it seems there is much deeper significance. In one of his most important studies, Gottman measured the physiology of newly-wed couples as they talked about different aspects of each other, both positive and negative:
- Over the long-term, he found correlation between how couples that had either separated or were drastically unhappy after six years (he labelled them “Disasters”) seemed during the interview to be biologically ready to attack, producing more sweat with higher pulse rates, even if outwardly they appeared calm.
- By contrast, couples who were still happy in marriages after six years had behaved physiologically more calmly at interview and Gottman named them “Masters”.
During another experiment with newlyweds, they observed couples attempting to make connections over a day with small “bids” for attention based on their own interests. This reflected on their relationship in how kindly their partner took up the bid or rejected it. If their spouse reacted with interest, this created an atmosphere of affection and intimacy that was much easier to sustain over time, whilst if they discounted it as unimportant or just ignored it, that added to a culture of unease and unwillingness to share interests in the long term.
Showing an interest in each other adds up in the long term, so it is important to be as positive and inclusive in those day-to-day interactions. And, for those of you approaching your new year's dating like a shopping expedition - must be over 6ft, must have a degree, can't have a beard, name can't begin with a 'K' - if you want a relationship that lasts, forget the lot and replace them with just two things: kindness and generosity.
If you need some help, talk to the friendly team of relationship experts at RSVP.