I love weddings. It's one of few times in a person's life when love is celebrated by every person in every corner of the couple's life. Family and friends gather from far and wide to witness, celebrate, congratulate, and be reminded of the importance of commitment.
My brother-in-law, Thomas, and soon to be sister-in-law, Janine, are getting married this Friday. They are great together, and I love them both dearly.
I've read probably upwards of a hundred articles that pop up on my various news feeds about love and commitment. They are all in the same vein... 5 strategies to keep your relationship hot forever. The most important factor in a marriage is this surprising thing. How to know if your partner is the right person for you. Etc etc... all based on the writer's POV. That's cool, I like to hear about what other people think. Sometimes it's even reasonable advice.
But recently, I read an article entitled Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits. This appeals to me because first and foremost, Science said it, and second, I wholly agree with the two traits the article outlines and have personally experienced the lack of these traits in a failed marriage, and the presence of these two traits in a successful one.
The two traits are simple, but the explanation of what they really mean in the context of an intimate relationship is what is key.
Kindness and Generosity.
Well duh. We should strive to be kind and generous to all people that we care about, and even to people that we don't care about in an ideal world. It's all about context here. In the context of an emotionally intimate relationship, the ways that we can be kind and generous are different than in our other relationships.
The article is based on many different studies of couples. It must be, as it states that Science Says. But the cliffs-notes version of the studies done show that in a relationship, we are constantly requesting the attention and input of our partner. It could be a big thing like what they think about this house to buy vs another house. Or a small thing like asking the other person to look at how cute that dog is over there.
These requests are called Bids for Connection. It doesn't matter the size or importance. Every bid for connection can be answered in two ways, a turn-toward or a turn-away. Even the most irrelevant seeming bid for connection may not even be about the subject the bid is being made over, it is just a simple request for a sign of interest or support so that a connection can be made, even briefly.
The type of generosity needed in a lasting relationship is a positive response, or turn-toward, bids for connection from your partner. It's a generosity of time, patience, understanding, and mutual interest. Not a generosity of money, belongings or gift giving. It costs no money at all. And that, friends, is why money cannot buy happiness, especially in a marriage. Statistically, successful couples who stay together consistently respond with a turn-toward bid 8-9 times out of 10.
Couples who end up devastated by either divorce or a lifetime of unhappiness have been proven to consistently turn-away from bids for connection from their partners (in the study, they had turn-toward bids only 33% of the time). They are not generous with their spirit and energy. They show no interest in their partners ideas, comments, and authentic being. That doesn't mean that couples must do everything together, and be like minded in all things. In fact, agreeing has nothing to do with a turn-toward response at all! Even disagreeing, as part of a turn-towards bid is a connection that is being made.
And that's where kindness comes into play as well. We are all individuals, and our strongest human urge is to find out who we are and to be that unique person, to be loved for the person that we are, and be respected for our contributions (also known as bids in this case!) Kindness in times of disagreement is the hardest and most important thing we can do in a relationship. That doesn't mean that you can't express anger or frustration. It means that you choose how you express negative emotions. Will you throw darts at your partner or will you explain your hurt and talk it out?
Kindness in general is how we can share an upward spiral of mutual gratitude, generosity, and validation. Kindness is how, in moments of complete exhaustion or overwhelming circumstances we can stop for a moment and turn-toward our partner's bid for connection and be completely selfless. Kindness is how we can keep our cool and hear our partner out no matter how much we disagree with what they are saying or doing.
Most interestingly, the study shows that it is far more important to turn-toward bids for connection in the small, unimportant, and positive life moments, rather than the big, important, and potentially negative or chaotic moments, when we would naturally assume the most support is needed. Ideally, a turn-toward would possible in both situations, but the small moments that happen daily, and multiple-times daily, build that very deeply rooted sense of togetherness and support. Positive reactions in the positive moments are seriously underrated. They are the gateway to a limitless spirit of kindness, even when life threatens to prevent it.
Will you make more attempts to turn-toward your partner, knowing that it makes literally all the difference? If you're interested in reading the whole article, it is linked here.
My brother-in-law and soon to be sister-in-law at my own wedding, back in 2014. Best wishes and congratulations to the happy couple! May you always turn towards each other <3