Could the Secret to Lasting Love Simply Involve Kindness?

A fascinating body of research shows that couples who are kind to each other keep the relationship going strong.

by
Posted in , Feb 7, 2022

Happy couple

In a series of studies dating back to the mid-1980s, psychologist John Gottman identified a fascinating factor in predicting whether loving relationships would last over time—the ability to tolerate uncomfortable feelings without becoming physiologically reactive or upset.

Gottman studied newly married couples by interviewing them while they were connected to monitors that measured heart rate, sweat production and blood pressure. He asked them to describe happy times, like when they first met, as well as challenging times, like when they disagreed over a major life decision. 

Years later, he interviewed the couples again. Those whose blood flow, heart rate and sweat production had been calm during their interviews were, for the most part, still happily married. Those whose outer appearances had seemed calm during the interviews but whose data had revealed signs of stress and reactivity were far more likely to have ended their relationships.

Another study tracked how couples respond when their attention is requested by their partner. For example, if one spouse said to the other, “What an unusual color that house is,” the partner’s response is revealing about the levels of ease and intimacy in the relationship. 

By responding with kind interest to these requests for attention—which Gottman called “bids”—a partner shows that they recognize and care about their spouses’ feelings. A partner who responds with hostility or sarcasm to such bids undermines the intimacy in the relationship. The latter type of relationship was significantly more likely to end in divorce.

Julie Gottman, a psychologist who is married to John Gottman, told The Atlantic in 2014, “If your partner expresses a need, and you are tired, stressed or distracted, then the generous spirit comes in when a partner makes a bid, and you still turn toward your partner.”

“Turning toward your partner” is another way to say, “be kind to your partner.” Assume the best in them. Even when they annoy or disappoint you, talk through the issue with compassion for your own needs as well as your partner’s intention and desire to do better. 

In any intimate relationship, there are myriad opportunities to practice and hone this skill each day. You can set kindness as your baseline at any time, and you will quickly understand why decades of research identifies kindness as a glue that keeps couples connected, through good times and bad.

View Comments