In my new book, When Divorce is Not an Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love, I reveal the research that describes the 8 basic habits that separate happy couples from unhappy ones. Happy couples aren’t so much lucky or born to be happy, they cultivate certain habits that any couple can learn.
One of those habits I call “emotional rapport and benevolence.” In other words, happy couples make a point of stepping outside of their comfort zone to demonstrate real interest in the things their partner is passionate about. And they work hard to do things to develop that interest even if that activity isn’t naturally “their thing.” Making this small but significant act of generosity–of “self-donation”–is an act of benevolence because it says “I really care about you” and it builds rapport between the couple because everyone loves sharing what they love with they people that they love. Here is a great summary of the research behind this idea. Researchers observed couples interacting with each other over the course of several days….
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.”
These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent 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 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs. Read More.
The little things really do matter. Couples often wait for anniversaries to renew their wedding vow, but every interaction between a husband and wife gives them the chance to either say, “I do.” or “I don’t” all over again. The more you learn to say “I do” over and over again, the stronger your marriage will be. If you’d like to find more ways you can say, “I do” to each other, check out When Divorce is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love and For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.