The Best Predictor Of How Good A Relationship Is
You can do this yourself: have someone ask you about the history of your relationship. What kind of story do you tell?
When your partner describes your relationship to others, what kind of story do they tell?
Does the story minimize the negatives and celebrate the positives? Did it make the other person sound great?
Or did it dwell on what’s wrong? Did it talk about what that idiot did this week that’s utterly wrong?
This simple “story of us” predicts which relationships succeed and which fail. Here’s John:
Our best prediction of the future of a relationship came from a couple’s “story of us.” It’s an ever-changing final appraisal of the relationship and your partner’s character. Some people were really developing a “story of us” that was very negative in which they really described all the problems in the relationship. They really emphasize what was missing. Masters did just the opposite: they minimized the negative qualities that all of us have and they cherish their partner’s positive qualities. They nurture gratitude instead of resentment.
Is there a part of a relationship conversation that’s critical? Actually, there is.
The Most Important Part Of A Relationship Conversation
It’s the beginning. 96% of the time John can predict the outcome of a conversation within the first three minutes. Here’s John:
Negativity feeds on itself and makes the conversation stay negative. We also did seven years of research on how Masters repair that negativity. One of the most powerful things is to say “Hey, this isn’t all your fault, I know that part of this is me. Let’s talk about what’s me and what’s you.” Accepting responsibility is huge for repair.
How you start those serious relationship discussions doesn’t just predict how the conversation goes — it also predicts divorce after 6 years of marriage.
…it went on to predict with high accuracy their fate over a 6-year period of time. The predictions we made about couples’ futures held across seven separate studies, they held for heterosexual as well as same-sex couples, and they held throughout the life course.
So you’re talking and you’re starting off positive and calm. Great. Now you should stop talking. Why?
When I asked John what the best thing to do to improve a relationship he said, “Learn how to be a good listener.”
The Masters know how to listen. When their partners have a problem, they drop everything and listen non-defensively with empathy. Here’s John:
In really bad relationships people are communicating, “Baby when you’re in pain, when you’re unhappy, when you hurt, I’m not going to be there for you. You deal with it on your own, find somebody else to talk to because I don’t like your negativity. I’m busy, I’m really involved with the kids, I’m really involved with my job.” Whereas the Masters have the model of, “When you’re unhappy, even if it’s with me, the world stops and I listen.”
And sometimes the best thing to do at the beginning of a relationship argument is to end it immediately. Why?
69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual. They won’t be resolved.
Beating a dead horse, asking someone to fundamentally change who they are isn’t going to work — but it will make them angry. Here’s John:
In the studies that Bob Levenson and I did, we brought couples back into the lab every couple of years to find out what they are arguing about. And people resolved only about 31% of their disagreements. You can edit these videotapes together and it looked like the same conversation over and over for 22 years. Masters learn to accept what will not change and focus on the positive. They seem to say, “There’s a lot of good stuff here and I can ignore the annoying things.”
Okay, that’s a lot of great stuff. Let’s round it up and finish with the thing John said that impressed me the most.
So here’s what John had to say:
- The 4 things that kill relationships: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling.
- The 3 things that prevent them: Know your partner, respond positively to “bids”, and admire your partner.
- The best predictor of relationship success is how you and your partner tell your “story of us.”
- The beginning of the conversation is crucial. Negativity compounds. Keep a cool head and resist emotional inertia.
One last thing that really blew me away: what makes for happy relationships sounds a lot like what makes for happiness in general.
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