Kindness is the recipe for keeping a relationship alive.
When an article, featuring research from The Gottman Institute about how to make a relationship work, recently popped up on my newsfeed it made me think.
You can read the article, but in a nutshell, couples were interviewed and studied as they interacted with each other, and then re-interviewed six years later. From their research Gottman separated them into two groups: the ones whose relationships fell apart or who were chronically unhappy together – the Disasters, and the ones who were still together and happy – the Masters.
Their analysis showed that those who were defensive in their relationships suffered and those relaxed and comfortable maintained happy bonds.
He followed his study in 1990 with a retreat in which he invited 130 newlywed couples to relax together while he watched how they interacted.
Quoting from the article: 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.
The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either turning toward or turning away from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.
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. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”
Again this made me think and consider my own relationship. How do I respond to my husband’s bids for my attention? How does he respond to mine? This reaches further than just marriage too, how do I listen to my children, who tend to bid for my attention even more than my partner?
Gottman found that: Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had turn-toward bids 33% of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had turn-toward bids 87% of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.
Do we meet our family’s needs?
Our society has become very secular and families find it more difficult than ever to interact with each other. We may be overwhelmed with work commitments, exhaustion, social media, hobbies or just plain disinterest. I was shocked one day when my child attempted to get my attention when I was online. I parried her constant efforts with “Wait a minute, I’m busy right now…” and ignored her protestations against my lack of interest. What was I doing? I was reading online articles, none of which were going anywhere, and none that I couldn’t return to when I had more time. A glance at my daughter made me stop. I closed the laptop and turned to her. Her particular needs weren’t imperative at that moment, but I knew that if I kept ignoring her, or turning away, then she would stop coming to me, which would be heartbreaking. If I ignored the simple things then I’d never get to hear the big things.
The same thing works within marriages and turning toward and recognising the worth of your partner’s need to be heard and loved is imperative. Read my article How to Feel Loved to learn about your and partner’s Love Strategy, and discover how we feel loved.
Gottman declared that: contempt is the number one factor that tears couples apart, and Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together.
Kindness, validating, and loving each other is what keeps couples close and intimate. It builds trust and loyalty. Kindness grows. What you give you receive back, and like a muscle it expands and flourishes the more you use and show it.
I’m lucky I have a partner who has always spent time concerned for my feelings. He has an intuition I didn’t appreciate when I was young, that doesn’t mean he always gets it right, but the intention is there and that’s a winner. When we first married I was a very introverted people-pleaser with very low self-esteem and I often felt I’d cheated him by marrying him. I was suffering CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and was ill for the first six or seven years of marriage. Add to that, he had no idea of my battle with depression, anxiety and panic and I spent much of the first decade of our marriage trying to make up for not being what I thought he deserved!
I made sure Vince’s needs were met, I insisted he completed his dream of passing his motorbike test and owning a motorbike, and he gained many employment qualifications on courses, some we paid for and some subsidised, whilst I ignored my needs. I refused to buy new shoes when mine had holes in and I couldn’t see that I was creating an unbalanced relationship. It wasn’t until I sought help for my conditions that I finally allowed my husband’s help in reaching for my own dreams. I had no idea that it hurt my husband when I put myself last, effectively turning away, and I had to re-evaluate my priorities.
Creating balance improved our relationship and helped our love grow deeper and stronger.
Again, this is vitally important in all our relationships, not just our romantic ones, but healthy partnerships help strengthen homes.
Shakespeare’s Juliet proclaimed infinite love – maybe we can do the same in all our relationships.
Hubby and I will reach twenty-five years on our wedding anniversary in October this year. I can testify that love and relationships aren’t child’s play, or maybe they are – children are more unconditional?
Relationships require work and trust, depth and compassion, kindness and validation, honesty and love.
If we try – where love is reciprocated – then we can turn toward and meet each other’s needs and live within happy and fulfilling relationships.
Here are the Gottman’s Top 7 Ways To Improve Your Marriage
How do you keep your relationship alive?
What’s the most important ingredient to you for
a successful marriage and/or partnership?
This explains why my marriage is/has failed. Defensiveness ruined ours – on both sides. And now there is turning away. I would say he does that more than I do. I try and engage him a lot, but rarely if ever get a response, not a look or a verbal response. It’s soul destroying.
I have worked on active listening, in particular for my children, and I am also aware of the 7 Downs (put down what what you are doing, bend down, bring your tone down – can’t remember the others), from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (book). It also applies in relationships too.
I try all the time to be kind, but I feel it is ignored – as I feel I am ignored. It’s hard.
I love this post. Thanks for sharing Lisa. Well have a lot to learn from you and Vince.
That’s really hard, Miranda, there’s so much in ‘turning toward’ that I love, and the opposite is exactly as you said, soul destroying. I love the ‘down’ idea – I get so caught up in my own world that it’s hard to jump back into reality when I’m needed. Too often I say ‘Wait a minute…’ and then you lose the moment. It’s a true lesson to learn to put down what you’re doing to listen, and I hope I get better at it! I always remember advice about getting down to a child’s level too, and it works.
You were and are a wise woman, LIsa. Your post says it all. Turning away IS destructive to any relationship. You die many small deaths until there is nothing left.to bother turning to at all. ❤ ❤ ❤
It’s all about keeping it alive isn’t it, Tess, and if you turn away or your partner does, it can kill the relationship in the end. And kindness is so healing, if only people would offer it x
Maybe it’s a matter of being reminded that in our haste or preoccupation we are not paying attention. ❤ ❤ ❤
Very true x
This is so true. It’s so easy to ignore our loved ones because we’re busy and don’t realize we are turning away. It’s something important to keep in mind in relationships. Great post!
It really made me think when I realised I was working hard in my marriage relationship not to turn away, but I was doing it with my children! Made me change and now my children know they’re more important than the internet or whatever else ‘demands’ my attention! It makes a difference, thanks, Sarah x
We’ve been married 15 years, and from my experience, the most important thing is caring. Without a mutual regard, patience, and perseverance a marriage cannot last. I love your article, Lisa. You’re brave and honest, and definitely on a right path 🙂 Best of luck to you and Vince!
Thanks, Ramona, mutual regard is beautiful 🙂 It takes two to tango and a good tango can keep a marriage strong – says she who cannot dance! lol.
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