There is a formula that can determine if your relationship will last. It took 35 years and the study of 3,000 couples to perfect, backed by empirical evidence. Sh*t’s real.
What sorcery is this! Clinical psychologists Drs John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute did the hard work. And they have the following to share.
In one study, the Gottmans set up a bed-and-breakfast retreat for 130 newlywed couples. They watched as the couples went about their vacation day, cooking, cleaning, listening to music, eating, chatting, and just hanging out (I know, it’s a little creepy). From this day, the Gottmans made a crucial discovery on the make and break of relationships.
Throughout the day, partners would attempt to connect, what the Gottmans termed “bids”. As an example, a husband who is a bird enthusiast points out a bird to his wife. He is not just commenting on the bird; he’s hunting for a connection with his wife over the bird.
Now, the wife can either “turn towards” or “turn away”. Does she take interest in the bird? While this does not sound like a big deal, it actually says plenty about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to share with his wife. Does she recognise and respect that?
Those who “turn towards” support the bid. Those that “turn away” reject the bid.
Dr Gottman checked in with the participants after a six-year period. He discovered that those who supported the bids:
- 33% of the time were divorced or chronically unhappy
- 87% of the time were still married
This single element — the “bid” — can predict with up to 94% accuracy if a couple would remain together, regardless of their sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, and whether they have children or not.
Masters and Disasters
Prior to the creepy-stalker retreat study, the Gottmans conducted the “love lab”, a research where they interviewed and observed married couples to determine the key to a lasting relationship.
They used a Specific Affect Coding System to categorise 20 different emotions based on
- Facial expressions
- Physical reactions — heart rate, blood velocity, and skin conductivity
With this data, collected over a few short interactions, the Gottmans were able to predict with up to 94% accuracy which couples were going to stay married and which were going to divorce.
The participating couples belonged to either one of two groups: Masters and Disasters.
The Disasters appeared calm during their interview, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, suggested otherwise. Their heart rates quickened, sweat glands were active, and blood flowed fast. Their relationship put them in a fight-or-flight mode. Even when talking about mundane aspects of their relationship, they were ready to get attacked.
On the other hand, the Masters showed low physiological arousal. The couples felt calm when together, even when they were fighting. It wasn’t that they had a better physiological makeup than the Disasters, but that they lived in a climate of trust so they were emotionally and physically more comfortable.
The more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships plummeted downhill.
The Masters purposely build a culture of respect and appreciation. The Disasters are on the hunt for their partner’s mistake.
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The Gottmans observed that the Disasters have tendencies that lead to an unsuccessful relationship. They called these tendencies the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.
The Four Horsemen lead partners to feel like they are in constant danger. Suggestion: avoid at all costs for a healthy relationship.
The Sound Relationship House Theory
Now that we know what not to do, what should we do? The Gottmans proposed that we:
- Show interest in our partner
- Express affection
- Show them they matter
- Show intentional appreciation
- Find opportunities for agreement
- Accept their perspective
- Make jokes
The Magic Ratio
But relationships are not always a bed of roses. There will be thorns. So how many thorns before the relationship breaks?
There is a magic relationship ratio — 5:1. For every negative interaction that a couple has, they must have five positive interactions. The larger the ratio, the better, of course, but 5:1 is the cutoff point for a relationship to survive.
It helps to examine the interactions in our relationship. Are you constantly in ugly situations? What is the ratio of the ugly to loving moments?
The formula is simple. If you want a lasting relationship:
- Be a Master (follow The Sound Relationship House Theory)
- Don’t be a Disaster (avoid the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse)
- Abide by the magic ratio — 5:1
- Support the bid. When your soulmate points at a bird, look at the godd*mn bird