A Psychology Today edition (Oct. 2015) included an article about the work of John Gottman which has long been in the public eye. I have extracted some of the article’s highlights. For example, it highlighted one of his most vocalized findings based on his research: to maintain a satisfying relationship, couples must generate five seconds of positive emotions for every one second of negative emotions during conflict discussions. That’s because negative emotions, like criticism and defensiveness, have more power to hurt a relationship than positive emotions have to help one. Why is that?
Negativity just makes a bigger impact on the brain, and unless we take steps to counteract it, slights will accumulate, continually accelerating the likelihood that partners will grow apart emotionally. Gottman emphasizes –and I totally agree–that love is an energy system and when partners interact, they create a force field, each having the power to affect what a partner does next: connect or disconnect, support or demonize.
Based on research, Gottman has found that everyone on the planet automatically evaluates every human transaction on a scale of positive to negative. In committed relationships, to repair the damage of missing each other’s bids to connect, individuals must accommodate their partner’s needs as well as their own. That, says Gottman, is the measure of trust–the degree to which you believe your partner has your interests in mind and can listen to you non-defensively, even if you can’t stand each other in the moment. It is the single most important factor that takes a marriage beyond the fabled seven-year breakup point.
When one person can’t offer the olive branch or the other can’t accept it, when neither takes the initiative to change direction and de-escalate a fight, when criticism, contempt, and stonewalling take over, when negative comments and interactions outnumber positive ones–well, of course, the relationship is in big trouble. Resentment will deepen and push you further away from each other.
In healthy relationships, we pay attention to what our partner needs and we aim to meet those needs as they arise, without worrying about getting the same thing or something equivalent in return. In healthy relationships, there is a general inclination to fulfill a partner’s needs even when they conflict with one’s own, without keeping an internal tit-for-tat tally. Consequently, you always feel like there is someone permanently in your corner. It’s demonstrated by couples all the time in ways both big and small, like moving across the country to accommodate a partner’s great new joy or going out for a mate’s favorite Chinese food instead of your preferred Italian. Sometimes a couple’s respective needs can feel irresolvable and that may be the case. But most of the time I believe it’s possible for couples to empathize and compromise.
BOTTOM LINE: THE KEY TO SUCCEEDING IN MARRIAGE IS NOT FINDING THE RIGHT PERSON. IT’S LEARNING TO LOVE THE PERSON YOU FOUND.
Sustaining love is not a passive or spontaneous experience as I believe many people are inclined to believe. Lasting love will NEVER just happen to you. You can’t “find” LASTING love. You have to “make” it day in and day out. That’s why we have the expression “the labor of love.” Because it takes time, effort, and energy. And most importantly, it takes WISDOM. You have to know WHAT TO DO to generate the positive energy that will tame the negative and make your marriage work.