Have you ever wondered what makes or breaks a marriage?
Perhaps 'self-expansion' might be a crucial part of the equation. Dubbed by psychologist Arthur Aron, self-expansion occurs when your relationship adds excitement and interest to your life.
Arun and researchers at Stony Brook University asked a group of couples to perform a set of monotonous exercises, and they asked another group of couples to perform silly, fun exercises (such as being tied together and crawling across a mat).
After performing the exercises, the couples were asked to rate their relationship satisfaction. Those who had performed the fun exercises together rated their satisfaction with their partner as higher than those couples who only performed the boring tasks.
It's easy to apply the wisdom of this study to your own relationship. Getting out of your comfort zone, being playful, and trying new things can help you reconnect with the fun and spontaneity of being in love.
Just as happy couples have certain things in common, unhappy couples have things in common as well. Psychologist and relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found four behaviors that predict divorce. These include:
Criticism: There is nothing wrong with expressing your needs or feelings to your partner. However, the way that you deliver these feelings is very important. When you criticize your partner, you attack who he is at his core. You attack his personality, his performance as a husband, and his self-worth.
Criticism: Do you ever think before you talk? Now my sister is going to be pouting for the next month about your dumb little comment!
Feedback: I know you were only joking, but my sister doesn't have a very thick skin. Can you please apologize to her so we can all be on good terms again?
Defensiveness: When you are defensive, you are locked in your need to be right. Much like it sounds, defensive behavior is straight out of a sports game. You want to win, you wan to challenge your partner, and you want to get bragging rights and be victorious. Some examples of defensive behavior include:
"If you would have taken my advice, we wouldn't have been late to dinner. I knew that highway would be backed up, I just knew it."
"Like I expected, the kids aren't taking care of the puppy. I told you this would happen. Next time, why don't you listen to me?"
Contempt: Much like criticism, contempt cuts at the root of a person's feelings. Contempt is wounding, useless, and very hard to move past and forgive. When you are behaving contemptuously, you might roll your eyes, mock your partner, name-call, or insult your partner.
Stonewalling: Stonewalling is when you mentally (or physically) remove yourself from your partner and his needs. For example, you might leave the room during a argument, or shut down when your partner tries to talk to you about his feelings. When you stonewall, you might seem like you are taking the high road or choosing not to argue, but you are actually choosing not to engage.
Your partner is left feeling shut out and unimportant, his feelings and his needs cast aside while you seemingly go along with your life stoically. He is left feeling like he is the only one who has any emotions invested in the relationship, a very lonely and awful feeling indeed.
While there is no exact formula to follow for a happy marriage, these studies help to point the way in the right direction-speak kindly, listen, and most of all, have fun together!
Printed from Oprah.com on Thursday, March 13, 2014