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2 Little Things that Can Make or Break Your Marriage
Psychologists reveal two little things that successful couples do every day to stay happily married.
How can you ensure your marriage is as full of romance and passion as the day you entered it? By buying your husband an expensive watch on your anniversary, whisking your wife away to the Maldives for a surprise vacation, or always sending her flowers and chocolates on her birthdays?
When we think of passionate relationships, we often think of big, romantic gestures and expensive presents. While we certainly should make the effort to celebrate our partners, relationship experts have found that it’s not the huge declarations of love that create the happiest marriages. Instead, it’s the little moments of everyday life. Real-life romance is kept alive by letting your spouse know that you value him or her in the grind of daily life.
The psychologists at The Gottman Institute have studied married couples for more than 40 years, and they’ve discovered two small but significant things successful couples do every day to stay happily married.Cara and Andy’s Ethereal, Blue-Hued Wedding at The St. Regis Singapore by Antelope Studios
1. Pay Attention
In a six-year study on newlyweds, Dr. John Gottman discovered the surprising difference between couples who stayed together and couples who divorced. It wasn’t the depth of intimacy in their conversations, or even whether they agreed with each other. In his book The Relationship Cure, Gottman says, “The important thing is how these people pay attention to each other, no matter what they’re talking about or doing.”
Gottman says that couples constantly reach out to each other to connect emotionally, but we often don’t recognise such emotional bids for connection because we aren’t paying attention. You don’t see your partner pointing something out because you’re looking at your phone. You forget to reply to her texts because you’re busy at work. You ignore his playful hip bump when you’re focused on doing the dishes. Yet, these are instances where your partner is reaching out to you.
Dating coach Logan Ury says that such requests to connect are often purposely subtle “because people are afraid to be vulnerable and put themselves out there”. It’s scary to say, “Connect with me!” so instead, we ask a question or reach out with a playful touch to invite connection.
Successful couples pay attention to these seemingly mundane little attempts to connect, and respond positively. Their attention creates a secure and loving relationship where their partners feel heard and understood. Psychotherapist Caroline Sweatt-Eldredge tells us, “Pay attention to the small ways in which your partner reaches for you and attempts to connect; intentionally looking for ways to turn toward your partner will help you be more effective in connecting with them.”Shan and Jason’s Scenic Destination Pre-Wedding Shoot in Perth and Rustic Vineyard-Inspired Wedding in Chijmes Hall Singapore by Shannon Stent
2. Respond Positively
In the six-year newlywed study, Gottman observed that the couples who ended up divorced only responded to each other’s attempts to connect 33% of the time, whereas the ones who stayed married responded positively to each other 86% of the time. When you respond positively towards your partner’s attempts to connect—such as by putting away your phone during dinner and engaging in conversation, or asking them what’s wrong when they heave a big sigh—you are telling him or her: “I’m interested in you. I understand you. I’d like to help you. I’d like to be with you.”
Forming a habit of responding positively to your partner’s attempts to connect will foster trust and security in your relationship. As Sweatt-Eldredge says, “Essentially, an emotional bid is a small way that we daily ask our partners, ‘Are you here with me?’ or, ‘Do I matter to you?’ By receiving a metaphorical ‘Yes!’ to these questions consistently throughout your relationship, you strengthen your trust and connection to each other. Every time you turn toward your partner in response to an emotional bid, you invest in the health and security of your relationship. This sense of security, of feeling truly able to know and be known by your partner, created by intentionally and consistently turning toward your partner, deepens your shared sense of intimacy and is correlated with increased marital satisfaction.” Each time you respond positively in simple things such as engaging with your partner’s comment about the food, or saying yes to a request for help, you are building up a shared sense of trust and happiness in your relationship.
When our partner ignores our bids for connection, we internalise the rejection. Ury says, “Our brains subconsciously keep track of how many bids are accepted or rejected by our partners. When our partner constantly turns away or against our bids, we begin to feel frustrated. We are more inclined to criticise our partners, which pushes them to be defensive and may result in an argument.” Over time, if resentment and emotional disconnect are allowed to build, a couple could decide to break up.
These two things might seem insignificantly simple—paying attention and responding positively. But as Sweatt-Eldredge tells us, “It’s the small things done often that make the biggest difference in relationships.” Let your partner know how much you value them not just on special occasions, but every day. Put down your phone. Share a raised eyebrow or a hand squeeze. Make eye contact when they ask you a question. Be there for them.
Credits: Feature image from Jillian and Daniel’s Gorgeous Bali Post-Wedding Shoot and Celebration by Maria Shiriaeva