The No. 1 Thing That Predicts a Successful Marriage, Therapists Say
If you're not doing this, you'll want to start soon.
It's easy to define a "successful" marriage as one built on a solid foundation of trust, love, and respect. But for most of us, the true test of a relationship is whether or not it stands the test of time. Even the strongest bonds can be difficult to maintain forever, though, especially long after the honeymoon phase ends. There's no perfect way to predict the future with 100 percent accuracy, but experts suggest there is one key indicator that increases the likelihood of that elusive "happily ever after" for your marriage. Read on to find out what therapists say could make all the difference.
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In a relationship, you and your partner both make "bids."
If you're familiar with basic relationship psychology, you're probably familiar with "bids." If you've never heard this term used outside of an auction house, rest assured that the principle is quite similar—except in this case, your partner is raising their paddle by asking (verbally or nonverbally) to connect with you. These can be subtle, like letting out an "exasperating sigh," or more direct, like asking you to go on a romantic date.
First defined by John Gottman, PhD, and his wife, Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD, co-founders of the Gottman Institute and Love Lab, "a bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection." According to the Gottmans and their fellow experts, how you respond to these cues is crucial.
You have three options to choose from.
The concept of bids was explored in a 1992 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, where the Gottmans were able to predict the future of marriages with 94 percent accuracy, according to a CNBC article cowritten by the couple.
The researchers interviewed newlyweds for the study, then followed up six years later. Couples stayed together and divorced, but those who were still married had something in common: They "turned toward" their partners more often when they made a bid.
To "turn toward" means responding and engaging your partner when they make a bid, whereas "turning away" means you ignore your partner, and "turning against" means that you reject their bid entirely, according to the Gottman Institute's website.
Illustrating the importance of bids, couples who were still married after six years turned toward each other 86 percent of the time, while those that divorced turned toward each other just 33 percent of the time.
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Therapists say turning toward your partner can have a protective effect.
Bids can be confusing if you don't know what to listen and look for, but according to the Gottman Institute, it's safe to say that if your spouse is trying to engage with you, you should accept that interaction and respond appropriately. This effectively affirms your connection and lets your partner know that you're there for them.
"Turning toward your partner means using your partner as a resource, but also making yourself available as a resource to your partner," Ryan Sheridan, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner of Proactive Psychiatry, says. "Being a resource is dynamic. It says, 'Hey, I am here for you,' or 'Hey, I need you,' in all of our interactions."
Rhonda Stewart Jones, MSW, LCSW, of About Face Consulting, LLC, adds that turning toward your partner promotes success by ensuring that you communicate.
"This is an indication of success in the relationship because it allows an opportunity for increased communication," she tells Best Life. "In any relationship when there is an opportunity to improve communication, it increases the chances of success in the relationship because without strong communication, relationships don't survive."
If you do catch one, don't shut it down.
When you shut down or don't acknowledge these bids, research suggests that you're putting your marriage on the line. "When couples break up, it's usually not because of big issues like conflict or infidelity," a video on the Gottman Institute website explains. "More often, it's a result of the resentment and distance that build up over time when partners continually turn away from bids for connection."
Stewart Jones emphasizes this as well, as ignoring your partner effectively puts up barriers. "Turning away from your partner is detrimental because by turning away, you are slowly building a wall where you are letting your partner know that you are not available to them," she says. "Moreover, it decreases the chances of good communication because you are not talking at times when communication is most crucial."
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Bids can be tricky, but there are ways to let your partner know you're listening.
Nobody's perfect, so you're not going to catch every single one of your spouse's bids. There are, however, ways to increase your ability to recognize and turn toward them.
In the article for CNBC, the Gottmans recommend that you check in with your partner and "pick up the pennies." Put simply, these positive interactions have value (like pennies)—when you collect them, they add up and can make a difference over time.
Sheridan advises that having more of these interactions also strengthens your marriage as a whole, just like exercise can strengthen your muscles. Both forms of strength come in handy when put to the test.
"If we go to the gym and lift weights, we get stronger. If we stop going to the gym we lose that strength. Our relationship is no different," he explains. "Every time we turn towards our partner our bond strengthens. We get stronger going to the gym over time; lifting the same weights gets easier. Similarly, turning toward our partner becomes easier, so we have the strength to weather the more challenging waters."