A Couple of Keys to Happy Relationships, According to Social Scientists

The other day, a friend of mine shared a link to Emily Esfahani Smith’s article Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits via Facebook. I nearly breezed past it in my news feed. I am usually reluctant to click on links that have seemingly oversimplified or exaggerated headlines. Lasting relationships come down to just two traits? I suspect that happy relationships are surely made up of more than two ingredients. I decided to look past the headline and give the article a shot because the friend who posted the story is a thoughtful and kind woman whom I have always admired. She wouldn’t have shared this article if it didn’t have substance.

The two basic traits outlined in the article are kindness and generosity. That fact alone is completely unsurprising, but what I found fascinating was the science behind the determination. Social scientists interviewed a number of newlyweds while they were hooked up to electrodes. Couples were asked a series of relationship-based questions, and their responses were observed by researchers. A follow up study was done on 130 couples by oversving how they interacted with each other on a one day retreat. The researchers followed up with the couples several years later to see if they were still happy together, or if the relationships had since dissolved or become strained. Based on their observations in the studies, the researchers were able to predict the outcome of each couple’s relationship with an astounding 94% accuracy! Reading this blew my mind. The article is definitely worth a read if you haven’t seen it yet.

Not only did researchers determine that kindness and generosity are the traits that keep a relationship strong, but they also identified traits that send relationships to their demise. The number one trait identified by researchers as destructive is — also not surprisingly — contempt.

“People who give their partner the cold shoulder — deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally — damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued… Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.”

The article also goes on to state that kindness is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened. I think that’s true. It’s also an encouraging message to know that kindness and generosity, or contempt, aren’t necessarily something we are born with out without. They can be trained or tamed through practice.

TL;DR: It’s cool to be kind!

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