Happily Ever After isn’t just a fairy tale notion, as psychologist John Gottman has been working to prove. For the last 40 years, he and his team have been studying how couples interact and respond to each other, researching how to achieve endless love.
From the data he has gathered over the years, he separates the couples into two main categories: Masters and Disasters. The Masters are couples who remain happily together while the Disasters are either chronically unhappy or eventually break up.
Here are 5 things the Masters, well, mastered in their relationships:
1. Look Up
In the 1990s, Gottman studied newlywed couples in a lab designed to look like a bed and breakfast. His research uncovered some surprising findings, especially the fact that marital wellbeing isn’t simply based on strategic conflict resolution. In fact, a major predictor of marital wellbeing is how a partner responds to a request for connection:
Throughout the day, partners asked for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” It’s not just about the bird — he’s looking for a response from his wife, a sign of interest or support.
The couples whose partners were able to give attention when it was sought were more likely to stay together. Those who couldn’t be bothered to look up from the newspaper, who kept doing what they were doing, who responded with annoyance, “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something?” were more likely to separate.
2. The Benefit of the Doubt
Believing in your partner’s good intentions. In other words, don’t skew negative. Masters don’t translate finishing the last of the milk without buying more (or leaving a note to buy more) as a deliberate move to annoy them. They chalk it up to forgetfulness and move on.
3. Everyday Kindness
Yet by that same token, a Master who finishes the milk will either buy more or leave a note — a thoughtful gesture for his/her partner. Being kind, giving compliments, doing something nice — making a cup of coffee, sending a random love note or text, or giving a foot rub — telegraphs emotion powerfully.
4. Actively Appreciate
In an interview with The Atlantic, Dr. Gottman explains that Masters “are scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.”
5. Work It
Masters know that a good relationship requires sustained hard work and a great deal of effort. They don’t “have” a good relationship, they work at having a good relationship.
As the Masters illustrate, happily ever after can and does exist… It takes kindness, optimism, generosity and effort. And love.