Everyday I hear from couples who ask me what is the happy marriage recipe. We all want the good marriage.
People want to know what it is they can do to better their relationship and strengthen their bond. Sometimes they are looking for just a little help to improve their communications. Sometimes they need some assistance with reducing conflict. Some even need marriage help with overcoming problems like emotional affairs and just plain boredom.
All of these things can hamper a marriage. But here is what I find to be most often the case. Often, it is not singular things that causes issues within a marriage. Struggling couples more often have problems across a spectrum of areas. And when you think about it, that should not be too surprising.
Small marital issues can springboard into large problems, which can lead to dysfunctions in other areas of the marriage. How can you be sure that your marriage is worth saving? I tackle that topic in this post…
But there is something amazing people can do much more of that can transform a stale or weak marriage to one that is among the best.
Good Marriages Grow from Commitment
If you find yourself in a troubled marriage situation, don’t despair.
What I have described plagues the vast majority of relationships. Just because the couple struggles in multiple areas of their relationship does not doom them. It does not mean they should throw in the towel. It does not suggest that that their husband or wife or themselves are bad people. Not at all. It simply means that marriages are complicated entities. And in a little bit, I am going to teach you something that will amaze you. While our problems can be numerous, you might be surprised to find that there is usually on key trigger. Find that trigger and correct it, you might just springboard your marriage to the next level.
But hey, I am not just going to sugar coat the complexities surrounding how men and women (or everyone for that matter) connect.
Think about it. We bring two people together who are not completely compatible. And by the way, no one in this world is completely compatible with their mate.
I know, I know! We all want to think that there is a soul mate out there for us or that we have possible found our marital soul mate. If you feel this way, fine! We can agree to disagree. My feeling is that two souls can draw so much closer together if they work at it. I agree, though, some couples have a head start given their attachment styles.
Think of this way…
So we have two people who have some isses from the get go insofar as meshing together. Ok, that is not unuusal. But it is a tall order to expect that two people can be brought together through the institution of marriage and become ONE. I just does not happen without effort and continued education on the principles of successful relationships.
Now, don’t get me wrong. All couples should strive to be ONE. It is a worthwhile endeavor and should be an ongoing goal. But along the way, every marriage should expect a somewhat bumpy road. Some couples will travel along the road more smoothly. Indeed, their marital experience may be so solid that they will need very little in terms of marriage help.
Others will have more difficulty as they travel along the path of marriage. But, look, as I said, this is not a terrible thing. The history of marriage suggest that facing some difficult times is expected. And we will have some couples that will face significant challenges. Obviously, this is not a desirable marital state, but it not something we should ignore. Couples need to learn what causes such serious relationship dysfunctions and act proactively to avoid or minimize these problematic outcomes.
I think it is best if people start off with this understanding about their relationship. I not preaching negativism here. Rather, I am trying to keep people marching along with an informed sense of pragmatism.
So yes, marriages are very complicated and it should not be terribly disappointing and certainly not surprising if trouble rears its ugly head. Is there a secret recipe that can take you to the top of the marriage satisfaction scale?
No there is not. But I have written a post that offers you some novel ways to grow the level of contentment…
Hence, it begs the question what one can do to insulate themselves from the common problems of marriage? What can one do to have a good marriage? It is a simple question, but the answer is much more involved.
Kindness and Appreciation are Pillars of Successful Marriages
I strongly believe it starts with the principle of kindness. It seems like such a simple soluiton to say that giving and receiving kindness can result in remarkable improvements in a marriage. One would think that given all the complexities and stresses and pressures of marriage, that gestures of kindness would only make a dent in improving the foundation of the the marriage.
But as unbelievable as it may sound, when a couple fully commits themselves to adopting a posture of kindness and appreciation in most of their dealings, wonderful things can happen.
But why? Why does such a singular thing….something as basic as being kind to your spouse…have an out sized positive benefit for so many married individuals?
Well, let me start with the science behind it. Some time ago, a study was performed that lasted decades. I think of it as the Kindness Study. A psychologist by the name of John Gottman was the force behind much of this work. He created what was to become known as the Love Lab in his quest to study what was the ingredients of a successful marriage.
Thousands of couples passed through the love lab and the science researchers looked at just about everything they could think of from physiological responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, even the amount of sweat.
Now the kind of analysis they did was not purely physiological in nature. They asked tons of questions and followed these couples for years as they sought the magic marriage formula.
After doing this for years, they compiled their data and essentially came up with groupings of couples, some which they called “masters” and others which they called “disasters”.
Something amazing was discovered with those who are considered masters of their marriage relationship. I think of it as amazing because it is so simple to master, yet I see so many couples doing the opposite. Knowing what this is…knowing in advance how you and your beloved spouse should interact can help you form a very successful marriage.
So what is this amazing outcome. It comes down to being kind. Kindness, if it was a muscle, would be something you and your husband or wife would want to exercise as often as possible.
Ok, so guess what? I am not joking about exercising your “kindness muscle”. Let me come back to that a bit later. First, let’s finish our discussion about how kindness, appreciation, and respect are the pillars of a successful marriage.
Bidding is Your Way to Connect With Your Spouse
You see, this brilliant psychologist (Gottman) and his team, spent many long hours and many long years studying and evaluating the ingredients of marital success. He tracked the couples he was studying for years. In the world of relationship psychology, they refer to this as a longitudinal study. What he found in abundance, among those couples that were highly functioning, was a process he called, “bidding”.
Think of it this way. You and your significant other are sitting on the porch in your back yard. It could be anywhere, but in my example, let’s just assume you guys are at home. You turn to your spouse and say something like, “hey look over there, I think that squirrel it going to get into your bird feeder”.
In my example, the reason why you would say something like this is because you know your spouse loves that bird feeder and enjoys watching all sorts of animals coming in for a meal. So you offer your comment in the spirit of what can be referred to as a “bid”. You are in effect bidding for a response and are seeking to make a connection. That is an appreciative gesture and if and when your spouse accepts your bid and turns toward you to engage in the discussion, the two of you are building intimacy. You are making little deposits into the bank account of trust and respect.
Imagine this happening over and over again. As times goes by, what you end up with is a highly functional couple. In studying couples, what Gottman found was that these incidents of bonding and connection in the form of bidding to connect with the other person’s is healthy and builds the relationship.
Whereas on the other hand, if you make a bid to your husband or wife, and they turn away from you and mutter something like, “just leave me be, can’t you see I am trying to relax”. Such responses, when they occur with frequency, are highly predictive of relationships that will likely fail.
In the study, couples that were together after six years, had a “bid” which resulted in a positive “turns toward outcome” about 87% of the time. These little behaviors which are exhibited between couples are remarkably predictive of which relationships that will last for the longer term.
So how do you integrate this simple, but effective behavior in your relationship?
Do each of us have a kindness gene?
Are we limited by our personality?
Well, the short answer is that while some of us are more inclined to employ kindness, appreciation, and respect in our daily lives, just because your current make up is not inclined to exhibit a lot of examples of kindness and appreciation; you can learn.
Kindness is not unlike a muscle. The very neurons of your brain can be retrained to LEAD WITH KINDNESS. It is never too late to make thoughtful “bids” to your lover and strengthen your marriage. Remember, though, it takes two to tango.
Studies reveal that new habit and routines can be formed over time. It usually takes on average about 66 days, though it can be much sooner with something like this, particularly if you and your spouse are both committed. Imagine how much happier you and your spouse could be if you both made a concerted effort to make bids of kindness back and forth to each other.