So, you’ve said your vows to your loved one. Now it’s time to fulfil your promises by being the best partner you can be. A happy marriage is not an overnight success; it takes time, commitment and action to keep your relationship strong.
Make your marriage work
Clinical psychologist and marriage researcher Dr John Gottman and his colleagues studied hundreds of relationships, including both newlyweds and long-term couples. These study participants were interviewed and asked questions about their relationships. During the interviews, video recordings were made of each couple and how they interacted with their partner, while at the same time, measurements of stress (heart rate, sweat rate, blood pressure and immune function) were taken. The researchers and followed up with the couples every year to see how their relationships had fared. What the researchers hoped to achieve was to identify whether there were patterns of behaviours, or interactions, that could discriminate happy from unhappy couples.
After 4 decades of research, 7 themes were identified as being the “secrets” to a happy marriage. According to one study, Dr Gottmans method of predicting relationship longevity was around 94% accurate!
1. Enhance your love maps
According to Dr Gottman, happy couples are very familiar with their partner’s world. A love map is a richly detailed plan where a part of your brain stores all the relevant information about your partner’s life. All the finer details of their daily stresses and favourite things to do should essentially become things that you know in detail.
2. Nurture your fondness and admiration
Like in any relationship, respect for one another is a key element to happiness. Dr Gottman believes that fondness and admiration are two of the most important components in a satisfying and long-term relationship. If these elements are completely missing, the marriage can’t be saved. Try this activity: “I appreciate”. List three or more of your partner’s positive characteristics paired with an event or memory that illustrates each quality. Do this regularly to remind you both of your love and admiration for each other.
3. Turn towards each other
Real life romance is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued, important during the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The little things always matter; lavish and luxurious trips and gifts are not necessarily a measure of true love. Dr Gottman suggests that romance is sort of like running late but taking a few minutes to listen to your partner’s bad dream and saying that you’ll discuss it later, instead of being dismissive. This helps form a basis of connection and passion which in turn, grows the “emotional bank account” in the marriage.
4. Let your partner influence you
Happy couples can find a common ground and make decisions together. They consider each other’s perspective and feelings. Letting your partner influence you isn’t about having the upper hand, but rather honouring and respecting each other in the relationship.
5. Solve your solvable problems
There are two types of marital problems: conflicts that can be resolved and continuous problems that can’t. It’s important for couples to determine which are which. Solvable problems are situational, and there’s no underlying conflict
6. Overcome gridlock
According to Dr Gottman, the goal with continuous problems is for couples to move from gridlock to dialogue. The usual underlying result of gridlock is unfulfilled dreams. Gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other. Happy couples believe in the importance of helping each other realise their dreams. This can be overcome by identifying those dreams that are causing the conflict. The next steps include talking to each other about your dreams and making peace with the problem. The aim here is to try and remove the hurt, so the problem stops being a source of pain.
7. Create shared meaning
Marriage isn’t limited to splitting household duties and chores. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together. This would be forming a culture rich with rituals, and an appreciation for your individual roles and goals. This will help you understand what it means to be a part of the unique family that you have become.
To be a happy couple make take some intention and practice, but the pay-off is worth it!
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, August 1992 Vol. 63, No. 2, 221-233