TIME psychology

5 Things That Make Love Last

I’ve posted before about John Gottman. He can listen to a couple for 5 minutes and determine, with 91% accuracy, whether they’ll divorce. He was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.

What system do they use in his lab for quickly telling who will stay together?

Via What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal:

We’ve settled on five basic dimensions that I believe express the richness of the subjects’ stories. Called the Buehlman Scoring, this assessment is extraordinarily accurate in predicting the death of a relationship. When applied to couples in another of my studies, which looked at 120 couples with preschool-aged children, the scoring predicted with 94 percent accuracy whether a couple would break up within the next four years

In the book, Gottman explains the five points that allow his lab to make such spectacular predictions.

#1: Fondness and Admiration

Happy couples tell their tales with warmth, affection, and respect for each other… Spontaneous compliments are common… couples with a weak fondness and admiration system tend to recall unfavorable first impressions of their partner.

#2: Me-ness vs. We-ness

Happy couples tend to relate stories where they worked well as a unit. The sense that they are “in this together” is palpable… The clue to the dead romance… is not that they aren’t able to resolve an argument. It’s why they are stuck in it: They are both focusing on me, not we.

#3: Knowing your partner

…Detailed descriptions indicate that they continue to understand and respect what makes the other tick: what their partner cares about, what makes him or her sad, or happy. We also note whether there is positive energy or a lack of it in their descriptions…Couples who lose this connection…remain impersonal and guarded when recounting their history, mentioning nothing specific about each other. Their view of their past is “generic” rather than individualized.

#4: Glorifying Your Struggles

Couples who describe their relationship history as chaotic are usually unhappy in the present. They don’t tell stories of pulling together or learning from their negative experiences. There’s no sense in their descriptions that their past troubles and conflicts strengthened their mutual trust... happy couples express pride over having survived difficult times. They glorify the struggle by emphasizing how it strengthened their commitment. They believe they steered their own course together, based on their common goals, aspirations, and values. They have built a system of shared meaning and purpose. Whether couples display this positive energy when recalling past hardships is not at all dependent on the depth of the difficulties they faced. How they interpret the negative and positive events is the key.

#5: Disappointment vs. Satisfaction

When couples are at risk for splitting, at least one of them will express disappointment that the relationship isn’t what it promised to be. Often, when reviewing the choices they made in the past, they express cynicism about long-term commitment… satisfied partners believe that their relationship has met their expectations.

And there is a point where the rift cannot be undone:

…once the Negative “Story of Us” switch is thrown, it is very hard to reverse. Any intervention is almost certainly too little, too late. Even if there’s a positive change in one partner’s behavior, the other remains suspicious, thinking something like, Well, the demon finally did something nice, but this relationship is still hell.

What’s the core takeaway you should keep in mind?

Either they emphasize their good times and make light of the rough spots, or they accentuate their failures and not their successes. Likewise, they either underscore their partner’s positive traits in favor of their more annoying characteristics (cherishing), or they do the opposite (trashing).

 

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More From Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

The Science Of “Happily Ever After”: 3 Things That Keep Love Alive

What are the four things that kill relationships?

What should you look for in a marriage partner?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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