What Makes A Relationship Last? A Science Based Answer

​​​​What ​Makes ​A ​Relationship ​Last? A ​Science ​Based ​Answer

Why do some relationships last-and others fail?

It’s a question that many couples have when they come into my office. Are we right for each other? Should we work on our relationship, or should we go our separate ways? And, by the way, how do we make this decision?

How to predict whether a relationship will last or not would be a very valuable skill to have-especially when one realizes that in most marriages, even if they last, both partners may not be happy.

In fact, in his book “
Happily Ever After”, psychologist Ty Tashiro states that out of every ten people that get married, only three will create a happy, sustainable long-term relationship with each other.

​​Only 3 out of every 10 married couples will create a happy, sustainable long-term relationship.

​-Ty Tashiro

So, how does one tell if a relationship will last?

A powerful answer to this question comes from
John Gottman, one of America's most eminent relationship researchers.

​​​John Gottman

In 1986, relationship researcher John Gottman (together with colleague Robert Levenson) set up what he called the “Love Lab”. This was an apartment at the University of Washington where newly-wed couples would come and live for several days.

During these days Gottman and Levenson would physiologically-monitor and video-tape each couple as they lived together. They would also ask each couple questions about their relationship, including:

  • ​how they met
  • what conflict they had with each other, and
  • positive memories of each other

​As each member of the couple answered these questions, Gottman and Levenson would monitor their heart rates, the level of sweat produced and their level of general physiological arousal. After a few days they would send the couples home.

Six years later Gottman and Levenson would follow up with each couple to see if their were together to not-and if so, how happy their marriage was.

The Masters of Relationships

From this data, Gottman and Levenson separated the couples into two groups. These groups were:

  • ​the "Masters of Relationships" (these were the couples who were still happily married and content after 6 years), and
  • the "Disasters of Relationships" (these were the couples who had separated or were together but chronically unhappy).

​So, what where the differences between these two groups?

Accordion to Gottman and Levenson, there were just two traits that separated these groups. These traits were kindness and generosity.

​​Accordion to Gottman and Levenson, there were just two traits that separated these groups. These traits were kindness and generosity.


​​​​Kindness

According to Gottman, disasters of relationships to get very quickly into a "fight-flight" (or adversarial) state of mind during relatively simple conversations.

In other words, disasters of relationships quickly get into attack (or defend) mode during conversations. If their spouse says or does something that they do not like or agree with, disasters of relationships are very quick to point out the faults in their spouses words or actions.

In these situations a disaster of relationship will attack their spouse, often by criticism or expressing contempt. Or if they themselves are being criticized, disasters of relationships easily become defensive. Or equally they become non-responsive and stonewall their partner.

These four traits, namely:

1.

Criticism

2.

Contempt

3.

Defensiveness

​4.

Stonewalling

​are what Gottman calls the "four horsemen of the apocolypse". They are all signs that a relationship is in trouble. Each behaviour over time is likely to lead to distance in a couple-and eventual separation.

Masters Of Relationships

​​​For masters of relationships the relationship is far more important that any single issue-so they be careful not to let small issues escalate into pointless arguments.

Scanning For Positives

Another behaviour that masters of relationships do that disasters of relationships do not do is to scan their relationship environment for positives-such as for things that they can praise their partner for or say thank you for.

Examples of this may be a partner who regularly thanks their partner for bathing the children in the evenings, even if it their job. Telling your partner what he or she is doing right is a powerful antidote to the times where your partner is feeling judged or criticized.

​Kindness

In the same vein as scanning for positives, kindness helps glue couples together. In fact, research has shown that kindness is the most important predictor of relationship satisfaction and stability. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood and loved.

So, how do you show kindness in a relationship?

Fortunately there are many ways!

One simple way to show kindness in a relationship involves what is known as "bids for attention". A bid for attention is usually a simple request for connection. For example, you may be watching television with your partner and he (or she) may say: "Isn't that funny!".

While this may seem an innocuous comment, in reality it is an attempt (albeit a small one) to connect with the partner. A master of relationship will acknowledge this connection, by saying something like "Yes, it sure is!".

​​​​One simple way to show kindness in a relationship involves what is known as "bids for attention". A bid for attention is usually a simple request for connection.

​By contrast, disasters of relationships will often ignore this bid, perhaps by saying nothing. Or they may disagree, perhaps by saying: "No, not really". In either case, the bid for connection has been lost.

Masters of relationships then respond kindly to bids for attention.

Another way of being kind to your partner is to think the best of their intentions. If your partner makes a mistake, rather than thinking about the outcome of their actions, focus on what your partner was trying to do. Maybe their intention was good. They may have been trying to help. And even if the effect is to hinder, masters of relationships will kindly acknowledge the intention, not the outcome.

A third example of showing kindness in a relationship is to share joyous moments with each other. If your partner has done something well, such as achieved a goal in work or done well at a sporting event-share the joy with them (rather than just making a token acknowledgement-such as by saying "That's nice").

Couples who share each others joy are far more likely to stay together than couples who do not. In fact, research has shown that being there for each other when things are good is even more important for a couple than being there for each other when things get tough!

​​​​​​Research has shown that being there for each other when things are good is even more important for a couple than being there for each other when things get tough!

Generosity

What Is Generosity?

In general, generosity in a relationship is choosing to focus more on the needs and wants of your partner than your own needs and wants.

Of course there are times when acts of generosity are counter-productive in a relationship-such as when your partner is completely self-serving, narcissistic or controlling, but in general the more generous each partner is to the other, the more likely the relationship is to succeed long-term.

So, what does generosity look like long-term in a relationship?

Luckily there are many ways to show generosity in a relationship.

These include:

1) Being Forgiving

In a relationship it is easy to "keep score" on who does what, who makes the most effort and so forth. Unfortunately research shows that this "score-keeping" is a strong predictor of relationship failure. Being generous in this context means being forgiving (and forgetting) of your partners perceived mistakes, accepting your partners apologies for mistakes and not letting frustrations build up.

​2) Praising Your Partner

Supporting and uplifting your partner is a key part of any great relationship. Taking time to compliment your partner, saying "thank you" or encouraging your partner in their day to day life all contribute to the glue that helps couples stay together.

​3) Thinking About How To Make Your Partner Happy

There are many day to day things that we can all do to improve your partners day. Some of these may be based in knowing what your partners main "love language" is and acting in a way that responds to it. Small acts of services, physical touch and supportive words can all contribute to making your partner happier. But the key is to think what would make him or her happy (not what would make you happy).

​4) Listening To Your Partner

​If your partner has had a difficult day and wants to talk about it, simply listening to your partner as he or she offloads the day is a generous act. I have written previously about the importance of good listening, but if you want to brush up on your listening skills, click here.

​​​If your partner has had a difficult day and wants to talk about it, simply listening to your partner as he or she offloads the day is a generous act. I have written previously about the importance of good listening, but if you want to brush up on your listening skills, click here.

​How Generous Is Your Relationship?

​​There are many other ways to show generosity in your relationship, but for a quick assessment of how generous your relationship is, assess yourself on the following four questions, using a scale of 1-5 (1=Never, 5=Always):

1) How often do you express affection or love to your partner?

2) How often do you express respect or admiration to your partner?

3) How often do you perform small acts of kindness for your partner (like making him or her coffee in the morning)?

4) How often do you forgive your partner for his or her mistakes or failings?


If you would like a full scoring guide, contact me or go to this article:
Quiz: Do you have a generous relationship?

​If you would like an ​indication now of your score, an average score on this quiz is around 15-16. If you are less than that you may have some work to do!

​In Conclusion...

​​​Science has said that kindness and forgiv​eness are the two key traits that "glue" a relationship together.

​Would you ​like to increase the levels of ​ kindness or generosity in your relationship? Book a relationship counselling session here.

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