By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD
According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period”.
A variety of social connections and close relationships can produce these health and well-being benefits. It’s not the number of family connections, close friends, or even whether you are in a committed romantic relationship that matters.
If you cultivate a few warm, satisfying, loving relationships, you’ll reap the benefits of a happy, healthier, longer life.
Loving-Liking Connection Promotes Well-Being
For the people who choose to be married or live in a committed relationship, the relationship-life happiness connection is more complicated. The quality of this primary relationship has the greatest impact on the quality of their life. And it requires both liking and loving.
A satisfying love relationship where partners both love and like each other makes people happy, bolsters their ability to deal with outside stressors, and provides protection for their physical and mental health as they age.
But beware. A dissatisfying, loving relationship has the opposite effect.
Dissatifsing Relationships Toxic to Well-Being
Marriages with high levels of unresolved, hostile conflict or those that lack intimacy, trust, and commitment erode the physical and psychological well-being of the partners involved.
Put another way, toxic or loveless relationships keep people unhappy and unhealthy. Period. Some (like me) say this is worse than getting divorced.
Therefore, one of the most important skill sets people can learn involves how to prevent negativity or indifference from eroding their intimate connection and overriding what was once their warm loving bond.
Key Building Block More “Liking” Not more “Loving”
The foundation of any loving committed relationship is the couple’s friendship, or how much they like each other. This friendship forms the foundation of what Gottman calls the Sound Relationship House and allows the relationship to stand firm when inevitable conflicts and stressors arise.
Specifically, the foundational level of the Sound Relationship House model accentuates three important aspects of friendship and liking in a romantic relationship:
- Build Love Maps: A love map contains the intimate information you know about your partner that you can use as a guide to your partner’s inner world. What are your partner’s likes and dislikes? Who is your partner’s best friend? Did they have a happy childhood? How do they prefer to relax after a tense day? In an ideal relationship, you and your partner know each other better than anyone else.
- Share Fondness & Admiration: Sharing your fondness and admiration for your partner involves vocalizing the personal characteristics you appreciate. This can be something as simple as saying “thank you”. Or you could comment on your partner’s good deeds to a neighbor, creative problem solving, intelligence, or good looks. Let your partner know you are proud of them, especially in front of others. Compliments mean the most when they come from the person most important to us.
- Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away: When partners need attention, support, or comfort from each other, they say or do something to let each other know about their needs. Gottman calls this gesture or request a “bid” for attention, affection, humor, or support. Turning Toward your partner involves giving an affirming response to their bid.
How to Build a Foundation of Liking
To experience the health and well-being benefits of a romantic, committed relationship you must keep the sentiment of your relationship positive and the foundation of liking and friendship strong. This requires that you:
- Continually improve your Love Maps: Make time to connect and truly listen to each other and respond in ways that show that you care about each other’s interests and concerns.
- Revisit the reasons you like and admire your partner: Think about your partner’s positive characteristics. Then look for opportunities to articulate the big and little reasons you appreciate your partner. You may want to start by writing a love letter or Valentine that includes the top 5 reasons you admire your partner.
- Respond favorably to your partner’s needs: To create a safe space where you and your partner both feel you can express yourselves and meet each other’s needs, be sure to “turn toward” each other when the other makes a bid for attention or support.
Let me know if I can help.
I’m a FL Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and Couples Counselor who is part of the Gottman Referral Network. You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we specialize in “friendly divorce” mediation and psycho-educational “Let’s Stay Together” private workshops, designed for couples who want to restore or enhance their marital happiness. I also speak frequently on relationship topics and author the relationship blog called “Work it Out”.