According to psychologist Ty Tashiro, author of ‘The Science of Happily Ever After,’ unfortunately only about 30% of couples who marry will create and maintain a long-term happy and healthy marriage. Tolstoy wrote that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but the happy ones are happy in ways they share in common. Psychologist John Gottman, perhaps the leading researcher into couple relationships, found over the past forty years in his lab (with Daniel Levenson at the University of Washington), that in fact there are traits happy couples have in common – and they’re traits any couple can learn and put into practice. Generally speaking, couples fall into two basic groups, which he calls ‘Masters’ and ‘Disasters.’ The master couples create long term happy relationships, while the disasters break up or stay in chronically unhappy marriages. Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in his lab, the quicker their relationships went downhill. The disasters were in fight-or-flight mode even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationship, and were quick to attack and be attacked. Their heart rates soared and made them more aggressive toward each other. The masters, on the other hand, had lower physical arousal, staying calm and connected, which led to warm and affectionate behavior, even during disagreements. The masters had a climate of calm, trust and intimacy that made them more emotionally and physically comfortable with each other.
Gottman also found that throughout the day, partners make requests for connection, what he calls “bids.” The spouse has a choice to respond by ‘turning toward’ or ‘turning away.’ People who turn toward their partner respond by showing interest and support. Those who turn away – who don’t respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or looking at their phone or computer, or respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, can’t you see I’m busy” — create a breakdown and bad feelings. These bidding interactions have a profound effect on the couple’s well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had ‘turn-toward bids’ only 33 percent of the time. The couples who were still together after six years had ‘turn-toward bids’ 87 percent of the time! Nine out of ten times, the masters were meeting their partner’s emotional needs, creating a positive atmosphere of interest and caring.
By observing these types of interactions, Gottman predicts with up to 94 percent accuracy whether couples will break up, or stay together happily or unhappily. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility? Masters look for ways to appreciate and say thank you, building a culture of respect and appreciation. Disasters scan for their partners’ mistakes and create an atmosphere of negativity. Kindness keeps couples together, making each other feel cared for, understood, validated and loved. Give each other the benefit of the doubt, appreciate intent and effort, do lots of small nice things for each other, be considerate, be a good friend, don’t keep bringing up old issues and old wounds, see the good rather than focusing on the bad, have fun together, appreciate and share each other’s good news. Think of it as a muscle you have to exercise, knowing that a happy and healthy long-term relationship requires sustained hard work.

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