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We’ve Studied Couples For 20+ Years: Do This Every Day For A Loving Relationship

1.

Turn towards.

How do you respond to your partner? Do you ignore them (turn away), or do you engage (turn toward)? The Gottmans wanted to assess these patterns, so they created an apartment lab and studied couples who stayed there for 24 hours. “One of the most powerful things that we discovered in our apartment lab was that people were always reaching out for connections,” says John. “They’re making bids for conversation, for touch, for affection quite often, and the reaction of the partner is so critical.”

Namely, they found couples who wound up divorcing seven years after their wedding had only turned toward their partner’s bids for connection 33% of the time. “Whereas the couples who were still married (prior, six years ago) had turned toward those bids 86% of the time. So these small moments are very, very, powerful,” John adds.

What does a bid for connection look like, you ask? Well, it can be something as simple as: “Honey, look at that blue bird outside. Is that a blue jay?” If you ignore their observation completely, that’s turning away; if you respond with shared interest, that’s turning towards. “And that makes all the difference in the quality of friendship, the quality of passion and romance in the relationship, as well as conflict,” says Julie. “[Bids for connection] can be tiny, they can be big, but the important thing is the tiny ones are just as important to keep fulfilling as the big ones.”

2.

Give compliments.

Compliments shouldn’t end at courtship. Many people might think that when you’re in a secure, loving relationship, you don’t need reassurance from your partner anymore–but according to Julie, that could not be more false. “We continue to need a little bit of reassurance that we’re lovable, that we’re worthy, that we’re enough for our partners…I’ve never met somebody who actually had surpassed their need for compliments.”

In fact, she references a study in which researchers observed couples in their homes for an evening and counted the number of positive interactions that happened between them. The results? Couples in unhappy marriages underestimated the number of positive interactions in their marriage by 50%1. “When you say thank you, when you pay a compliment to your partner, you’re building this culture of appreciation in the relationship that is such a cushion for dealing with the world’s everyday stresses,” affirms John. “It’s just very powerful.”

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3.

Physical touch.

Touch is essential for healthy relationships, according to the Gottmas (even if physical touch isn’t your love language). That doesn’t mean you have to engage in some sweeping gesture every time you’re out in public, but touch is an important part of connection. In fact, “touch is as essential to our well-being as food, water, and exercise,” says Julie.

Think about it: Humans are social beings, and we depend on each other in order to survive. It’s why extreme loneliness is associated with a greater mortality risk2. “And part of that connection that we need for our survival is touch,” Julie adds.

John references the classic study by psychologist Harry Harlow, Ph.D.3, where researchers gave baby monkeys a wire “mother” that provided milk and a cloth “mother” that provided contact comfort in their cage. When those baby monkeys became frightened, they ran straight towards that cloth mother. “So there’s a basic drive in all mammals for a connection, and touch is a part of that,” John says.

And again, it doesn’t even have to be a sexual or intimate touch. “It can be just a touch on the arm, a touch on the shoulder, holding hands…whatever it is, but touch makes a gigantic difference in relationships,” adds Julie.

The takeaway.

You don’t have to perform grand romantic gestures to secure long-lasting love. According to the Gottmans, small, everyday habits tend to have bigger impacts on the relationship over time. All of these tips take less than five seconds to practice–an interested response, a genuine compliment, a touch on the shoulder–but they can influence your partnership in a major way.

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