Finding your partner, your “person,” the love of your life, the “one” is never as easy as it looks in the movies. You’ll often hear people say, “When you know, you know,” but it rarely seems to be that clear. Many of us were brought up with the belief that falling in love would be magical and obvious and while it sometimes is, love and relationships can also be complicated and messy. It’s common for couples and individuals to feel unclear if they’re on the right track for a lasting relationship.
What kind of things make someone the “right fit” for you? What makes love last and does your relationship have what it takes? With divorce rates currently at 39% in America according to the most recent census data, these are questions and decisions you want to be making with as much conscious effort and reflection as possible.
As we introduced in Conscious Dating Part 1, conscious dating requires awareness and preparation, thoughtfulness and intentionality. To help you explore what this looks like in a longer-term relationship, we compiled the research and turned to the experts to help you make these conscious dating decisions with your partner. Here’s what we learned…
It’s not all about compatibility.
In a longitudinal study of couples who had been married for years, Dr. Ted Hudson of the University of Texas found that there is essentially no correlation at all between objective compatibility (think similarity in personality, values, goals, likes and dislikes, etc.) and the happiness of those long-term couples. The couples who were happy shared that compatibility wasn’t very important to them and that they got along so well because they put the work in. The unhappy couples figured that they weren’t getting along because they were simply incompatible, even though there was no evidence of this in their personality test results.
Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute in Seattle and couples researcher for over 40 years, agrees that personality profiling is incapable of predicting the length or success of a relationship. His research confirms that couples who are motivated to stay together and focus their energy on building something meaningful together tend to last the longest.
That’s right, there is no perfect lover. If you want your relationship to last, you have to put in the work. That’s what conscious dating is all about, too. A good sign that you’re ready to take your relationship to the next level isn’t about your partner being “perfect for you” but more about both partners being ready and willing to do the work.
Couple compatibility isn’t completely irrelevant, of course. A strong friendship provides a great foundation for relationships. But it cannot substitute the work required to make love last.
So, if compatibility isn’t the magic must-have to make a relationship last, what should you focus on? These research-based top tips from the Gottman Institute are a fantastic place to start.
It’s about understanding.
Happy couples are familiar with each other’s world – likes, dislikes, dreams, fears, favorite movies, best friends, greatest hopes, and biggest stressors. You don’t have to come from the same world or like all the same things or people, but it’s vital to have an understanding of your partner on this deeper level and feel like your partner understands you in this way.
It’s not just about being there for your partner when life gets hard, but also celebrating with your partner when things go right and responding positively to your partner’s good news is just as important for relationship quality.
Creating and sharing a culture of familiarity and understanding is something you have to work to continue building. What rituals do you engage in regularly to build to strengthen your bond, create moments of togetherness and working toward common goals? Could it be weekly walks, morning coffee time, date nights, home improvement projects, or volunteer activities?
It’s about connection.
Connection between couples isn’t primarily fostered through physical attraction but by being responsive to each other and what the Gottman Institute describes as “turning toward each other rather than away.” Being attuned and responsive to your partner’s needs over time builds safety, trust, and intimacy, which translates to emotional and physical comfort with each other.
When this culture of connection is secure, couples can turn towards each other even when they fight. This shows they still care about and respect one another by being present and warm, listening, validating, and seeking to understand their partner’s side. Neglect, however, creates distance between partners and breeds resentment in the one who is being ignored.
It’s about affection and admiration.
It’s no surprise that happiness in relationships hinges on kindness, generosity, gratitude, and respect, but the Gottman institute shares that these attitudes and behaviors towards each other are actually one of the most significant predictors of relationship success. Couples that do this well are habitually paying attention to things they can appreciate and admire about their partner and purposefully voicing it to them. When was the last time you thought purposefully about the things that you admire about your partner and shared it with them?
It’s not that these couples never express anger or disappointment, but instead of falling into contempt and criticism, they choose the kinder path of explaining calmly to their partners why they are hurt or upset and invite them to repair the hurt. Being mean will guarantee unhappiness in your relationship.
It’s about teamwork and compromise.
Strong couples who admire each other are open to accepting influence from their partners. They listen and seek to understand. They see themselves as a team and are open to changing their perspective, finding common ground, and accepting compromise.
Not all problems in relationships can be resolved. “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.” There will be core parts of your partner that you are incompatible with that will cause you to feel disconnected at times from them. This doesn’t mean your relationship will necessarily be unsuccessful.
It’s about communicating with the goal of reconnecting, moving from gridlock to dialogue, striving to understand and show respect even if you can’t agree, working to find a temporary compromise, and finally thanking each other for sharing perspective. This continuous exercise in compromise allows partners to understand what’s most important to each other and, in turn, get to know each other a little better.
So what does this mean for you and your partner?
What did you learn from this article about the ways that you and your partner interact? Where are the areas that you could improve on? Have you gotten stuck in your unresolvable problems and is that keeping you from connection, kindness, understanding, and affection? We can help!
If you want to learn more about our services and live in Arizona, North Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual sessions only right now to accommodate the safety of our staff and clients during the time of COVID-19.