...according to science.
Full disclosure: Isaac and I have been driving each other a little crazy recently. In the last year alone, we got married, opened a business and moved house, a beautiful trifecta of very good things that nevertheless has been a lot to deal with. Don't get me wrong, I'm still obsessed with my husband, but, needless to say, there have been some quarrels along the way. Why is he physically incapable of finding things that are directly in front of him? Are we out of milk again? Dude, let's talk about that wet towel on the floor. Etc and so forth.
Anyway, at times when the going gets tough and the pesky covenant of marriage/real-deal-true-crazy-love denies the tough from getting going, I often remember this article from The Atlantic. It's about a study where psychologists John and Julie Gottman studied hundreds of newly married couples and monitored them over the years to discover who stayed together. By the end, armed with their data, the Gottman's claimed they could predict whether or not a couple would stay married with (gulp) 94 per cent accuracy. They termed the couples that had good marriages as "masters" and the ones who didn't as "disasters":
Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?
“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
Yep-the secret to a long-lasting marriage? Just plain old kindness, says science. Of particular note for crotchety me:
"The hardest time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight—but this is also the most important time to be kind. Letting contempt and aggression spiral out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.
"Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger,” Julie Gottman explained, “but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”
John Gottman elaborated on those spears: “Disasters will say things differently in a fight. Disasters will say ‘You’re late. What’s wrong with you? You’re just like your mom.’ Masters will say ‘I feel bad for picking on you about your lateness, and I know it’s not your fault, but it’s really annoying that you’re late again.’”
And finally, I loved this part.
"There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work."
A good reminder. Find the full article here. Super worth reading.