Why These Two Personality Traits Help Create Long-Lasting Relationships

There are tons of blog posts and articles out there that claim to provide the magic formula for creating satisfying and long-lasting relationships. Some focus on keeping your passion alive or finding the secret to love. However, few of these claims are supported by scientific research.  One important exception is research conducted by John and Julie Gottman and their focus on what makes relationships work.

Masters vs. Disasters

Initially, in 1986, the Gottmans’ research involved newly married couples answering questions while connected to devices that monitored their heart rate, respiratory rate, and sweat production. The questions were about their wedding and their time together as a couple. The Gottmans then waited six years to interview these couples again and determine whether or not they were still together and why.

The Gottmans formed two categories of couples for this research:

1. Masters:  These were couples stayed together for the six years between the first and second set of interviews.

2. Disasters:  These included couples who were no longer together or who were chronically unhappy but still remained married.

Why These Two Categories?

The Gottmans discovered, after reviewing their data, that the Masters had been calmer than the Disasters during their interview. The Masters had lower heart rates, respiratory rates, and produced less sweat than the Disasters. The Gottmans interpreted this to mean that the Disasters had lower levels of trust and intimacy with one another when discussing their relationships and their weddings.

The Vacation Experiment

A few years later, the Gottmans published another study. This project involved having newlywed couples simulate living in an apartment that was set up for laboratory monitoring. The couples acted like they were on a 3-day weekend vacation.  The researchers not only monitored the couples’ physiological responses, but also looked at their observable behaviors. They wanted to identify what behaviors might lead couples towards becoming either Masters or Disasters.

The researchers were able to identify two traits that did, in fact, help them predict which couples would become Masters or Disasters:

  • Kindness
  • Generosity

While concluding that the absence or presence of these two traits are significant may not seem shocking to many, their research showed that simply being kind and generous is not all that is necessary to become a Master Couple.

Seeking Each Other Out

Master Couples provide a lot of time and attention to each other. They also emotionally seek out their partner, which is what the Gottmans refer to as “turning towards” one another. These couples typically seek their partners out when they are having a significant emotional reaction or experience. This is opposed to those couples that push their partner away or look to a third party for comfort. Master Couples are also able to meet their partners’ emotional needs most of the time, while Disaster Couples do so much less frequently.

Perhaps even more importantly, Master Couples actually search for opportunities to express gratitude towards their partner. Disasters, in contrast, do the exact opposite and frequently look to criticize or point out a partner’s mistakes. When Masters notice a mistake, they typically don’t bring it up or don’t make a big deal about it.

Becoming a Master Couple

So what can couples do to be more like Master Couples? Here are some ideas:

  • Look for opportunities to express gratitude.
  • Be aware of your partner’s needs.
  • Ask how to support your partner.
  • When you are struggling with something difficult, reach out to your partner for emotional support.
  • Don’t forget to be kind and generous to each other.

Unfortunately, when couples are in established relationships, these tips are easily forgotten in our busy lives. Couples, though, can still avoid becoming Disasters by making sure to practice kindness and generosity daily with their partners. Over time, this will lay the foundation for a more loving, caring, and successful marriage.

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