Of all the people who marry, only 30 per cent grow towards a quality of marriage that they hoped for when they started out. So says Ty Tashiro in his book, “The Science of Happily Ever After.” A lot of us divorce or separate, and many maintain a “just reasonably content” compromise, and a few of us are “happily ever after.”
By the way, this is true if one is a faith-follower or if one is something else from the spiritual-psychological neighbourhood.
Seattle’s John Gottman, the current marital-parenting guru, has studied married couples for four decades and distilled the nature of their success – and it is completely ordinary. “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”
According to Gottman, people whose relationships thrived “scanned the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” Those who gave up on their marriages more than often scanned for their partner’s mistakes.
This part of Gottman’s research is obvious to those who identify gratitude as evidence of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20).
Gottman found the key to success in the everyday interactions between couples. He calls them “bids.” Say my partner makes a thoughtful and generous dinner for the family and asks for my response with the hope of some appreciation. I thank her blankly because I’m immersed in my own thing. She has made a “bid,” according to Gottman, for my attention and appreciation and I didn’t deliver. And neither do the kids for that matter.
Did you know that the majority of “bids” between unhappy couples go unanswered or worse, dismissed with contempt?
Here is something interesting: when Gottman examined the decades of marital data, he found divorcing couples responded to bids only infrequently, less than a third of the time. What about couples that thrived? They approached and appreciated the bids nearly 90% of the time. They had “emotional intelligence.”
Seems simple enough but sometimes hard to do.
(Adapted from a July 2014 Vancouver Sun article by Michael Pond.) Updated December 2020.