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!

How to Avoid Becoming an Ad Target When You Are Engaged

You and I are exposed to thousands of ads a day. Many of us do our best to tune them out. Some of us even dare to think we are not influenced by advertising, but I don’t believe that to be true for a second. I heard an ad for Coke the other day, and immediately started craving an ice cold Coca-Cola in a can (because it tastes the best that way!). The moment the seasons began to change from summer to fall, and fall fashion ads started popping up everywhere I looked, I suddenly started thinking I could use a new pair of boots and a few new sweaters to welcome the crisp fall air. As much as we try to resist advertising, it influences us.

Coca-Cola getting personal with their marketing. Are you thirsty yet?

Ads invite themselves into our lives without permission. This can be maddening to consumers, but there are ways to limit their impressions on us.

The first step against becoming an advertiser’s target is to become aware of when a brand is trying to sell you something, and trying to get you to think you need that thing. We know we want many of the things we see in ads, but we just need to remind ourselves that we really don’t need them. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Once you become engaged, you are a huge ad target. The average cost of a wedding is said to be about $30,000 (whether or not that is true is another story…). Brands everywhere want a piece of your wedding budget! They will try to pull at your heartstrings and convince you that your wedding must be magical and will only achieve dream-come-true status with whatever product or service they want to sell to you. Not only can this heightened ad targeting be frustrating, but it can be downright overwhelming and anxiety inducing. Why? Well, if this is your first marriage, you are entering a world you have never been a part of before. You’re not sure where to start. Being overwhelmed with wedding ads can be anxiety inducing when it happens all at once.  If you want to limit the amount of wedding-related advertisements being shown and sent to you, and seek out services on your own terms, keep reading.

Step 1 in avoiding wedding ads: Clear your browser’s cache.

It’s ideal to start clean and remove your browsing data, including browsing history, download history, cookies, and cached images. I recommend clearing everything that is an option which also includes saved passwords, autofill data, hosted app data, and content licenses. Some people hate clearing their browsing history, but I think it’s important to do on a regular basis. There are even some benefits to clearing your cache.

For maximum effect, you should clear all of your devices including your desktop, laptop, phone, and /or tablet. If you use multiple browsers on one device, clear the history from each browser. Refreshyourcache.com has simple directions on how to clear your cache for all browsers and devices.

Step 2: When you are doing online wedding planning (or anything else you don’t want to be tracked), use incognito mode or private browsing mode on your preferred browser.

After clearing your cache, you can use private browsing mode when you are wedding planning and visiting wedding or party related sites. Your browsing history won’t be recorded, and cookies will be deleted after you finish your session. Using incognito mode is not 100% stealth, but it is a solid step in your quest to remain anonymous and avoid becoming an ad target.

Step 3: Guard your contact information by creating a wedding-only email address, and sharing your contact information on a strictly need-to-know basis.

When you begin to communicate with wedding vendors, you’ll almost always need to provide an email address. Create a new email address that you use specifically for this purpose, and your inbox will thank you. Gmail allows you to create a new email address, auto-forward messages to your regular email address, and apply a wedding-specific filter to all emails. Setting this up will take only a few minutes, and provide so many benefits during and after planning. You’ll notice the email newsletters piling up as you get further into planning. If you use your wedding-specific email throughout your wedding planning, you’ll be able to easily filter out unwanted wedding email advertisements with just a few clicks of a mouse after you get hitched.

In addition to creating a unique wedding email address, consider using Gmail aliases for more refined filtering. If your wedding email address is janejonwedding@gmail.com, you can add a plus sign followed by a unique identifier to the email handle, such as janejonwedding+theknot@gmail.com, and all email will still be sent to janejonwedding@gmail.com. Using this feature, you can set any email sent to that unique handle to be filtered however you see fit: star it, archive it, apply a specific label to it, etc. It is also helpful in getting to the source of unsolicited email. If you provide your customized email at a particular website, and you start getting email to that address from other services, you will know that the original site shared or sold your information. In this case, you can change the filter to auto-delete messages sent to your unique email.

Step 4: Keep the rest of your contact information private, too.

Before you provide any contact information, make sure you are aware of the privacy policy of websites. Many (and I do mean many) companies in the wedding business will sell or share your contact information with advertisers or third parties. I know this because I have bought this information myself. This detail is usually noted in the fine print of the terms and conditions that you never read. But perhaps it is worth giving those terms and conditions a quick run through before you hand over your contact information. If you must provide an email address, but don’t care about receiving anything from the vendor, you can always use a fake email address like abc@xyz.com.

In addition to keeping your email address safe from spam, you can also keep your full name, phone, and mailing address private until you absolutely need to share that information. If a form requires a first and last name, I usually either use my first name and last initial, my first name twice, or some other fake version of my last name. If the phone field of a form is required, I default to 000-000-0000 unless I actually want to hear from the service by phone. As for mailing addresses, 123 Main Street, Anytown USA is a good stand-by. If that’s flagged as a fake address, you can use the service provider’s mailing address which can usually be found on their contact page.

Providing your real address almost guarantees you’ll start receiving junk mail. Yes, it will be wedding related, and yes, it might include some deals on services you would actually want for your wedding, but you’ll probably also get those offers to your wedding-specific email, so there is no need to clutter up your actual mailbox. This junk mail may also turn into home related direct mail and baby related direct mail based on traditional lifecycles, which can be downright creepy. To gain more insight on exactly how much companies can find out about you to personalize their advertising towards you, read this fascinating article from 2012 about how Target knew a teenage girl was pregnant before her father did. Bonus points: take a close look at the article landing page and try to identify whether or not the ads on the article are personalized for you based on your browsing history.

Step 5: Consider skipping the relationship status update on social media.

You may want to switch your relationship status on Facebook to engaged as soon as you’ve told all of your close family and friends (you did tell your close family and friends about your engagement before blasting it on social media, right?). Just keep in mind that the moment you identify yourself as engaged on Facebook, your newsfeed will be inundated with wedding specific ads. If you don’t want your feed to be cluttered with ads from venues, jewelers, wedding apparel businesses, invitation companies, and more, hold off on updating your relationship status, and simply post a regular update to your friends if you really want to get the word out on social media.

That covers it for my top tips to guard yourself from a barrage of wedding ads once you become engaged, but the list could go on and on. What tips do you have to share? Leave a comment below with your advice.