Lasting Relationships Come Down To Two Traits

Life & Love | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 11/11/2014 | 11:30 AM EST

Science says generosity is the secret ingredient to long-lasting love

With so few marriages surviving in America (or relationships for that matter), it begs the question: what does it actually take for a relationship to last?

Well science says, according to psychologist John Gottman, that long-lasting relationships come down to two very simple (or not so simple) traits: kindness and generosity.


For the past four decades, Gottman has studied thousands of couples in a mission figure out what makes relationships work. Along with his wife, Julie, Gottman is an expert on marital stability who runs The Gottman Institute, which is devoted to to helping couples build and maintain loving, healthy relationships based on scientific studies.

In 1986, Gottman and colleague Robert Levenson set up the “Love Lab” at the University of Washington, where they brought newlyweds into the lab and watched them interact with each other.

The Business Insider

With a team of researchers, they hooked the couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship, like how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the subjects' blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat they produced. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still together.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages.

When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story.

Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

Through his research, Gottman says he can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether a couple will last, no matter their socio-economic background, sexual orientation, or even if they have children or not. Much of it, Gottman says, comes down to the spirit a couple brings to the relationship.

There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explains to Business Insider, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”


“It’s not just scanning environment,” said wife Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

The research duo determined that the number one factor that rips couples apart is focusing too much criticizing their partners, which results in them missing 50 percent of the positive things their partner is doing and instead only see the negative.

Kindness, however, binds couples together because it makes them feel validated and valued. To keep that spirit alive in a relationship, couples have to work hard and have to constantly exercise kindness and care.

“If your partner expresses a need,” explained Julie Gottman, “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.”

(Photo:  Zack Seckler/Corbis)

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