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By: Mary Hoofnagle, M.A., NCC, LPC-Intern
When people discover I’m a counselor the first thing they ask is a question related to relationship compatibility. I’ve been asked: What Myers Briggs Type Indicator combinations should I look for? Can introverts and extroverts be happy together? How important are common interests to my relationship? Do you believe in zodiac compatibilities? What are relationship warning signs that I should be looking for? Do you have tips to make marriage work? Seems like everyone wants to know how to ensure relationship success. It also seems like everyone wants an easy boxed up answer that will tell say: Yes! I should marry this person and it will be perfect. Or No. Walk away now; it will never work.
Unfortunately, the answers we are looking for aren’t wrapped up neatly in a bow. And the truth is this: It will not be perfect. This is not the hopeless statement it seems. But it is truth. Even with a so-called perfect match, relationships are difficult. They take work. They take maintenance. Let’s examine for a moment two important relationships in my life.
I have two best friends. We have been friends with one another 20 years. One friend and I have a connection that has been easy since day one. We understand one another because we view things similarly and think and interact with the world in similar ways. If conflict arises, it doesn’t feel so much like conflict because the moment one labels the conflict the other understands exactly what is meant. We can speak through eye contact alone and read one another’s minds because we think in the same way. When something affects me in some way I know it will affect her the same way. We turn toward one another to see this reaction and connect.
My other friend and I had our struggles at the beginning of this relationship. We hurt one another. We didn’t automatically understand one another. But we made a decision that our relationship was more important than our conflict. We decided we were important to one another. We worked through these conflicts and used them as communication tools to understand each other more effectively. We can also speak through eye contact alone and read one another’s minds because we have learned how the other one thinks. I know when something will affect her and look to see that reaction. And she does the same. We turn toward one another to connect.
What these two 20 year relationships have in common is we make a concentrated effort to turn toward one another to connect and we decided to use conflicts to grow and develop a deeper understanding of each other.
This week there was a viral post on Business Insider highlighting points illustrated in these two friendships. The article is based on the Gottman’s research findings that two factors are what determine long-term relationship success: turning toward bids for connection and kindness. These are critical factors for sure, and I’ll touch on them, but I want to add that I think a third factor exists and it is equally as critical: dedication. In fact, dedication is the key to fostering both the traits that the Gottman’s discovered in their research.
Business Insider describes partners making bids for connection. The manner and frequency that we turn toward the partner in response to these bids can make or break the bond. In relationships with long-term success, the other partner actively responds to the bid for connection 87% of the time. So it is important to find a partner that notices these bids and meets you in them, but also that you look for these bids in your partner and respond to them as well. In fact, deciding to pay close attention to these bids and respond to them takes dedication.
Kindness is the other critical factor according to the Gottman’s study. Contempt is the number one predictor of marriage failure. So it isn’t surprising that its counterpart, kindness, is a predictor of marriage success. Kindness is not always easy. In fact, the times when it is most critical to be kind is when it is the hardest: during a disagreement. In order to be kind and turn toward your partner during difficult times, your dedication to your partner must be greater than your desire to meet your own needs. And the same must be true of your partner. When this happens, two partners are dedicated to building the other one up and the pay off is tenfold. Not only do you feel more loved by your partner, but because they show their dedication, your desire to show your dedication grows. As you give kindness and dedication to one another it becomes a feedback loop of positivity and love, even when you are struggling through conflict together.
So, I leave you with this: If you are looking for a lasting relationship, you need to find a compatible partner, but you also need to be one. And the answer to being a compatible partner isn’t necessarily found in personality theories. But I’d be bold enough to say it might be found in a Rick Roll:
Turning toward bids for connection: I just want to tell you how I’m feeling. Gotta make you understand.
Dedication: Never gonna give you up. Never gonna let you down. Never gonna runa round and desert you.
Kindness: Never gonna make you cry. Never gonna say goodbye. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.
If you feel that you and your partner need additional help with your relationship, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment or read more about couples counseling on our dedicated page. If you would like to read more posts relating to couples, you can check out Four Factors that Predict the Investment in a Relationship and Why Time is Important in Relationships.