We are a social animal. For millions of years, our nervous system has been shaped by the groups we had found ourselves in. Each of our consciousnesses are the crowning jewels of successful social reproduction. And yet, culture and economics have collided to produce for us a broken social arrangement.
We have been programmed to go deep into debt to buy a home that isolates us; conditioned to spend our evenings looking at screens. But the human animal is remarkably adaptive. Begin feeding yourself genuine and loving relationships, and the echo’s of our past become singing choirs. We heal ourselves by becoming more social. This post is about the science around improving our closest connections; the connections with our romantic partners.
Dr. Gottman is a wizard at the University of Washington in Seattle. Gottman can predict, with up to a 90% accuracy rate, which marriages will end in divorce in the next 5 years by watching them talk for an hour. Where our mouths may lie, the body speaks the truth. Here are the markers Gottman uses to predict divorce;
- A harsh startup in a disagreement
- Criticism of partner, rather than complaints
- Displays of contempt
- Hair-trigger defensiveness
- Lack of validation (particularly stonewalling)
- Negative body language
But there is good news. He has also identified the variables that predict whether a marriage will last. Successful couples devote an extra 5 hours a week to these things;
Partings – Before these couples say goodbye every morning, they find out one thing that each is going to do that day.
Reunions – At the end of each workday, these couples have a low-stress reunion conversation.
Affection – Touching, grabbing, holding, and kissing; all laced with tenderness and forgiveness.
Admiration and Appreciation – Every day, genuine affection and appreciation is given at least once.
Dr. Seligman recommends Gottman’s book “Making Marriage Work” for anyone interested in improving their marriages or close relationships.
Responsive and Attentive Listening
Buckle in. This is a magical spell. If you can learn to do this with a partner who is willing to do it as well, your entire romantic life will fucking change. I can show you how to do it, but you’ll have to have the willpower and discipline to implement it when the time is right and the argument is heated.
This is a technique used in conflict resolution therapy but it is a powerful tool for interpersonal relationships. The Technique goes like this;
- Pick an object that represents who the speaker is (in the example it is a cup).
- When the speaker is holding the object, the listener cannot interrupt.
- Whenever the speaker has made any point, before going on, the listener must summarize the speaker’s point accurately enough to where the speaker agrees.
If you are the speaker, don’t dominate the speaking. Also, don’t attack the listener, rather, explain how you feel. Here is an example from Dr. Seligman’s book;
Peter (Speaker): I’ve also been pretty concerned about where we send our son to preschool, and I’m not even sure this is the year to do it.
Tessie (Listener): You’ve been concerned, too, and you’re partly not sure he’s ready.
Peter (Speaker): Yeah, that’s it. He acts pretty young for his age, and I’m not sure how he’d do, unless the situation was just right.
(Note how Peter acknowledges that Tessie’s summary is on the mark before moving on to another point.)
Tessie (Listener): You’re worried he wouldn’t hold his own with older-acting kids, right?
(Tessie isn’t quite sure she has understood Peter’s point so she makes her paraphrase tentative.)
Peater (Speaker): Well, that’s partly it, but I’m also not sure he’s ready to be away from you that much. Of course, I don’t want him to be too dependent, either…
(They pass control of the floor, with Tess taking the cup (the cup here is indicating who the speaker is.))
Tessie (now the Speaker): Well, I appreciate what you’re saying. Actually, I hadn’t realized you’d thought this much about it. I was worried that you didn’t care about it.
(As the speaker, Tessie validates Peter in the comments he’s made.)
Peter (Listener): Sounds as though you’re glad to hear I’m concerned.
Tessie (Speaker): Yes, I agree it isn’t an easy decision. If we did put him in preschool this year, it would have to be just the right place.
Peter (Listener): You’re saying that it would have to be just the right preschool for it to be worth doing this year.
Tessie (Speaker): Exactly. It might be worth trying if we could find a great environment for him.
A Few More Tips
When in the presences of people you care about, do not interact with your phone at all. Turn it off or put it on sleep mode. This is the most simple yet most powerful change most of us could make today.
Practice slow sex. At least once a week, make it clear to each other that this sexual dance is not goal-oriented towards orgasm; tonight the focus is only on slow touching. Rub and massage each other. Kiss every part of each other, and just enjoy the time together. (For more details, check out “Slow Sex.”)
A healthy relationship heals yourself and the Other. Good luck and namasteezy.