November 21, 2014
Everyone has couples in their lives, either just dating or married (depending on how old and/or home schooled you are), who seem indelible. Then you have other couples (maybe involving yourself (probably (definitely))) who can’t seem to keep it together. What gives? What’s their secret? Well, Business Insider published a long as fuck article last week about a study that answers just that. It it were Upworthy, the headline would be “You Won’t Believe What One Little Word Is The Difference Between Happiness And Divorce,” but Business Insider isn’t terrible.
The study began in 1986, when researcher John Gottman began studying the physiological responses newlyweds had when they were, ugh, forced to, like, actually interact with each other. The couples quickly broke down into two groups: “Masters,” who would still be together years later, and “disasters,” who would not:
“The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast… Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other.”
Ok, so what? I get sweaty and awkward around women all the time. To get a clearer picture, Gottman did a followup in 1990 where he designed a lab to look like a B&B and invited 130 newlyweds to stay. Over the course of the “vacation,” he observed them (not at all creepy!) as they did normal couple things like cook, hang out, chat, and fuck . He found some things:
“Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls ‘bids.’ For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, ‘Look at that beautiful bird outside!’ He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife — a sign of interest or support — hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird…
… People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t — those who turned away — would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper.”
Weird bird-watching husbands aside, the cumulative data were telling: Couples who were still together after six years had “turn-towards” bids 87% of the time, while those who were not only demonstrated them 33% of the time.
It appears the “secret” to a lasting relationship is (holds back vomit) (vomits again from holding back vomit)... kindness. That is, observing emotional needs in your partner, and meeting them. Kindness begets more kindness, which in turn leads to increasing levels of love, generosity, and all of that other mushy shit. On the other hand, contempt and criticism (to the surprise of no one) was a huge indicator of marital unrest and inevitable doom.
So what does this mean for you? Well, the study only studied newlyweds, but there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t apply to committed nonmarital relationships as well. But that’s the key word - relationships. This does not imply that the key to getting a guy to like you is to heap niceness upon him regardless of his response. It’s reciprocal, too - a relationship where one partner is attentive to the other’s needs but the other isn’t is still a shitty relationship. Basically, if you’re dating someone and neither of you can be bothered to pay attention to the other one, you shouldn’t be dating.
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