There’s more than one side to every story.
Do you like telling people about how you met your partner? When you tell the story, do you focus on how sweet it was and how it was meant to be, or do you make it sound more like the beginning of a Shakespearean tragedy than a romance?
Think about those old couples telling the stories of how they got together in When Harry Met Sally… If you and your partner told yours, how would it go?
It might be worth considering. Love researcher John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says the best way to predict whether a couple will stay together or split up is to listen to their relationship stories. Every couple has plenty of stories – there’s how you first met, how you fell in love, what your first fight was about. If you’re married, then there’s how you got engaged, and what your wedding was like. And how you tell these stories matters.
So what’s the right way to tell your stories, if you want to ensure that you and your partner don’t turn into ‘disasters,’ as Gottman calls the unhappily married and destined-to-divorce couples in his research, and instead become what he calls ‘masters’ of love?
In his research, Gottman found that “some people were really developing a ‘story of us’ that was very negative, in which they described all the problems in the relationship.” But couples whose marriages not only survived, but thrived, did the opposite. “They nurture gratitude instead of resentment,” Gottman told Time. Gottman says that 94 per cent of the time, when couples put a positive spin on their relationship, and on their partner’s character, they have a happy future in front of them.
Couples who focus on the negative aspects of their relationships, rather than highlighting the positives, are far more likely to get divorced, says Gottman. He says his “best prediction of the future of a relationship came from a couple’s ‘story of us.'” That’s because the story, while it will change with each telling, and over time, is essentially a “final appraisal of the relationship and your partner’s character.” A negative spin on your story, while you might think it’s cute or funny or deprecating, indicates a negative view of your relationship, and your partner.
Beware the self-fulfilling prophecy
A word of warning: if you keep reinforcing the negative spin you put on your relationship, it will eventually stick. Any story can be told two ways (and probably more than that), because life isn’t black and white. Framed a certain way, any relationship has the potential to sound doomed.
Maybe your partner has a terrible memory and always forgets birthdays and important anniversaries; maybe he’s a workaholic and constantly checks his email when you’re out to dinner. But if the two of you are still together, he must have some good qualities that keep you with him. If these don’t come to mind before his not-so-great qualities, ask yourself why. Maybe you’re truly unhappy and would be better off going your separate ways; even if you’re already married, remember that divorce isn’t the end of the world. Or maybe you just need to reframe your story. If you keep score of all the negatives and make them an intrinsic part of your story, you could be setting your relationship up to fail.
Tell your stories
One way to make sure you’re putting your relationship, and your partner, in the best possible light is to tell your stories more often – and really listen to yourselves when you do it. Researchers have found that you can actually make yourself fall in or out of love with someone just by focusing on the good or the bad things about them. Sometimes we might get into the habit of harping on the negatives simply because we’re stressed or upset. We may not even know we’re doing it; when we stop and listen to ourselves, it can be a cold, hard reality check.
So go ahead – practice telling your stories. Have a date night with your partner and reminisce about the first time you saw each other. Maybe you’ve never really told each other about some of the things you did in private during those early falling-in-love days; the way you used to zone out at work because you were replaying the magical weekend you’d had together, or the way your cheeks used to hurt from smiling at the end of the day.
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Comment: What kind of stories do you to tell about your relationship?