Kindness and generosity. It’s hardly rocket science, but researchers say that without these two basic traits, your relationship is almost certainly doomed.
New York psychologists who’ve been studying couples since the 1970s say that their observations of newlywed couples have enabled them to predict with 94% accuracy if their relationship will go the distance, and that how kind and generous they are in specific scenarios is the key to happily ever after.
Following experiments in which couples were wired up to machines while answering a series of questions about their spouse and relationship, the psychologists divided the couples into two groups: ‘masters’, and the rather less fortunate sounding ‘disasters’ (no prizes for guessing which ones ended up in the divorce courts).
Though the disasters – still in the early days of their marriage – appeared calm on the surface, their results showed a different story. Elevated heart rates, overactive sweat glands and quickened blood flow were more akin to woolly mammoths in a fight or flight standoff than young couples in love. And when the psychologists caught up with participants further down the line, they discovered that the greater the physiological responses present at the lab, the greater the chance that the couple had already gone their separate ways.
What’s all this got to do with kindness and generosity? Well in many cases, the unpleasant physical symptoms demonstrated a spouse’s readiness and willingness to verbally attack or criticise their partner. A husband in fight or flight response might be much more likely to say something negative about his wife’s housework or spending habits, than those whose heart and pulse rates remained calm and consistent throughout the experiment.
That’s not to say that those couples who stayed together didn’t fight; on the contrary, they were able to do so kindly – without hurling blame or insults. A wife fed up with her spouse’s tardiness might say she wished he could be on time more often, rather than yelling that he’s exactly like his father, selfish and inconsiderate for always turning up late.
So, that’s where kindness comes in. Where does generosity feature? In a follow up study, the same psychologists found couples who stayed together were much more responsive to one another’s needs, paying them attention and taking an interest in what they had to say, even when tired, stressed or those interests were different to their own.
A husband who’s interested in cars, for example, might point out a beautiful classic automobile to his wife who isn’t. Her response might range from completely ignoring her husband’s remark, to asking him what year the car dates from. These two extremes are evidence of what psychologists say are either ‘turning away’ behaviours’ or ‘turning towards’ behaviours, and it doesn’t take a degree in psychology to figure out which behaviour results in the most satisfied couples.
Before we had psychologists telling us that kindness and generosity were the order of solid, happy relationships, we had Shakespeare. His Juliet reminds us: “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.”
Shakespeare’s words remind us, perhaps most importantly of all, that kindness and generosity are not possessed in fixed amounts. They’re muscles waiting to be flexed, and the more we use them, the more they are likely to be flexed at us in return.
Image: Flame Introductions