What’s the secret to keeping love in a strong, honest, and renewed relationship forever? Although it may seem that the answer is going to be very complicated, the truth is that it is not.
Why can some people stay in love for decades while others fall out of love once the novelty fades and the rose-tinted glasses clear? Certainly, the attitude we take in a relationship before it begins contributes greatly to its longevity. We must know that love requires a lot of attention and it is hard work sometimes.
Expecting magic instead of mutual growth within a connection can be a huge mistake. It’s also helpful for the couple to have loving habits (see “Ten Zen Things to Save Your Marriage”) as well as love skills, such as rewarding a partner’s attempts to learn and grow.
But what about the popular notion of keeping one’s expectations low? Is it true that we should accept our unity and that the other has nothing to do with the pain we might feel within the partnership? We hear from many self-help books that we should accept the other just as he or she is, practice the art of compromise, and take one hundred percent responsibility for our feelings.
The other will not have any power over us because we decide what we think and generate our feelings. Are loving partners independent of each other?
When I met my husband, I believed in it. I thought I was responsible for my happiness and he is for my happiness, which is also in line with my training as a psychiatrist. Taking care of the other was considered neurotic, an attempt to get from the partner what he originally needed from his parents. Accordingly, I felt some guilt that we spent so much time dealing with the small psychological injuries that occurred in each of us.
Were we doing a lot of joking because I was getting shorter or thinking about everything because I liked philosophy? Should I disclose even when I felt lonely and burdened my poor fellow after a long day at work? Since my husband was not tainted by self-help books nor psychological training, he was not afflicted with this guilt. For him, caring for each other and feeling responsible for them came naturally.
thank God. As it stands, we both had enough information on how to boost each other’s growth. Because of him, I was greatly relaxed, although I maintained a bit of guilt when I shared our habits with others, especially with other psychotherapists and Buddhists aspiring for inner peace. So far.
Three researchers from the University of Washington, John Gottman, Catherine Swanson, and James Murray, examined the hypothesis of keeping marriage expectations low. They watched couples closely and used mathematical models to ascertain exactly what in love couples do and in love don’t. They score a point where a partner becomes frustrated in a conversation until they respond negatively to the other. They called this point the “negative threshold.”
If one were to believe in popular culture, then successful couples would be expected to have a very high negative threshold, which means that they will not be easily motivated by the other and will allow things to slide easily. The opposite was true. Successful marriages, that is, satisfying and loving marriages, have a low negative threshold. During a TED talk, mathematician Hannah Fry puts it this way: 1
“In those relationships, spouses allow each other to constantly complain and work together to fix small issues between them. In such a situation, spouses do not suppress their feelings, and the little things do not end up becoming completely out of proportion.”
So much for the desire to have a so-called low-maintenance partner…. It is very important not to let negativity build up in a relationship. In addition, the three authors concluded that people with the highest expectations of their marriage had the best marital outcomes. They recommend that, 2
“In courtship, a couple can first establish a lower negative threshold for dealing with problems before they escalate too much. This would reduce the degree of negative reciprocity that escalates conflicts and can be beneficial in the long-term stability and happiness of the relationship.”
I wish I knew this nineteen years ago when I got married. The study by Guttmann et al. was released that year, in 1999. But at least I practiced what I didn’t know for sure: I didn’t shake my partner’s disappointments under the rug.
Related: The 7 Deadly Relationship Sins