Each year, millions of couples around the world take that big step of saying “I do”, committing to a lifelong relationship, hoping that it’ll be a life full of love, friendship and joy next to their partner. But this could be very far from reality, since divorce rate are just getting higher and higher.
Social scientists first started studying marriage in the 1970’s in response to the fact that married couples were getting divorced at unprecedented rates. So psychologists decided study couples and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were.
First, a team of researchers observed the couples as they asked them questions about their relationships. Then, after six years, they summoned them back to see if they were still together. From the data gathered, they separated couples in two groups, the ones who were still happily married, and the ones who were broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages.
They found that contempt is the principal most negative aspect in a relationship, what breaks apart most of the couples. People who focus on criticizing their partners and miss at least half of the positive things (sometimes all of them) that their partners do can even create negativity where there’s none!
People who give their partner the cold shoulder, deliberately ignoring him/her or responding minimally, make their partner feel worthless and invisible, like they’re not even there, causing a progressive damage in their relationship. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them do nothing but further damage.
Kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a relationship. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood and validated, makes them feel loved.
The hardest time to practice kindness is during a fight, but this is also the most important time to be kind, which doesn’t mean we can’t express our anger, it just means we could take the kinder path and let our partner know why you’re hurt and angry, instead of just yelling ant them.
When people think about practicing kindness, they often think about small acts of generosity, like buying each other little gifts or giving one another back rubs every now and then. While those are great examples of generosity, kindness can also be built into the backbone of a relationship through the way partners interact with each other on a daily basis.
Another powerful kindness strategy revolves around shared joy. One of the signs the unstable and conflictive couples studied showed, was their inability to connect over each other’s good news.
As the normal stresses of life pile up (with children, career, friends, in-laws, and other distractions that keep the couple away from the time for romance and intimacy), couples may put less effort in their relationship and let the small issues against each other tear them apart. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but also live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.