The Secret to Love Is Just Kindness

“Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection,
what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird
enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to
his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just
commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a
sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily,
over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward”
or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the
bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about
the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was
important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is
whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by
engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who
didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and
continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the
paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying
something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital
well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had
“turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their
bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who
were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of
the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s
emotional needs.”

“Kindness… glues couples together. Research independent from theirs
has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most
important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.
Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and
validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says
Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The
more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too:
there’s a great deal of evidence
showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they
will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and
generosity in a relationship.

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as
a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of
kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger
than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.
Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they
have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that
a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

“If your partner expresses a need,” explained Julie Gottman, “and you
are tired, stressed, or distracted, then the generous spirit comes in
when a partner makes a bid, and you still turn toward your partner.”

The Secret to Love Is Just Kindness

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