One word I didn’t hear from you is the word respect, but you seem to describe mutual respect in a lot of what you say.
Fondness and admiration is about affection and respect. So admiration is our term for respect. It’s as important as love and affection.
Can you talk about the telltale signs of a relationship that will stay together but be unhappy in the relationship?
Relationships that stay together but are unhappy are very similar to ones that break up. They’re just a little bit less intense. So they’re quantitatively different but not qualitatively different. So people who stay together and are unhappy eventually lead parallel lives. They go down this cascade of distance and isolation that we can describe very well. Eventually they’re really living in parallel but they’re not very connected, and very lonely.
If you had to name one thing that’s the most important ingredient to a good relationship, what would it be?
I was asked this question by the marketing director of Random House when he was trying to decide whether to put any money in marketing my book. He said, “Can you tell me in just 30 seconds what I should do to make my marriage better?” and I said I think the most important thing you can do is to know and honor your wife’s dreams. And he got up and left the room. It turned out he went back home to Brooklyn on the subway, and his wife thought he gotten fired. And she said, “What are you doing here, did you get fired?” And he said, “No I want to know what your dreams are.” This guy Ross told me this later, and he said her answer was, “I thought you’d never ask.” So that would be the one thing I think if I was going to pick one thing is to really ask these open-ended questions that are very, very deep and I think very respectful.
Are the chances of marital or relationship success greater with two working spouses as opposed to one stay at home and one working spouse?
Two people working; these kinds of things about what can you what can you describe about people, do they have common interests, can you pick any sort of descriptive demographic variables about a relationship that will allow you to predict the relationship are generally pretty bad.
Because it really all depends on how people have the two careers and what what they’re really saying to one another. So for example, in in studies of two career families what turns out to be most important is the perception of fairness. And it’s not fairness. It’s not being 50 50. It’s the perception of fairness so it gets back to respect. If there’s a feeling that you’re in this together, that really makes a big difference.
What about when children are brought into a relationship, does that change things?
The effects of a baby on a relationship are deleterious seventy percent of the time. So the majority of couples having babies in the United States are hurting their relationship. They’re having less conversation, less sex, more hostility, and the hostility is transferring to the baby and affecting the baby’s neurological, cognitive and emotional development. Yet we can reverse those trends in 10 hours of a workshop that we give at Swedish Medical Center. So once you know what to do, then you can change this transition when a baby comes so that it can actually be an opportunity to get closer and build a stronger family, rather than have it tear a family apart. It’s really all about dealing with conflict well and maintaining friendship and intimacy. It’s also about honoring the role of fathers, because fathers we now know through hundreds of studies have an enormous role to play in the development of daughters and sons. And the secret of keeping dads involved with babies is to have low conflict with Mom, and high intimacy with Mom. So it’s really something we can we can really change, and our effects are very large in the area of prevention rather than intervening when problems have really developed and are severe.
Do those that have masterful relationships have parents with masterful relationships, and vice-versa?
Generally, there is an effect of parents staying together and being happy. Not just not staying together if they’re miserable; it doesn’t really do anything. Just stability. Very small effect. There is an effect that people are more likely get divorced if their parents have been divorced but the really big effect is whether their parents have been happy with one another and have had their conflicts in private, not in front of the children. Because that raises children’s blood pressure. It scares them. So it is important the the role model that we create for our children and in our own relationships.
That’s one thing we say to couples who are expecting a baby is the greatest gift you can give your baby is a happy relationship between the two of you. So you’re not depriving your baby of anything when you go away for a bed and breakfast getaway and really have a romantic evening or an overnight. In fact, you’re really helping your baby.
It seems like we need to have more investment in training young people into how how to become good spouses.
You’re absolutely right. And we know how to do that. We have the instructional technology to make that happen. It’s in the work of a award-winning social psychologist named Elliot Aronson who has realy done all this work called The Jigsaw Classroom in training school students in elementary and middle school and high school to be able to work cooperatively with one another. And that emotional intelligence can be built, and we know exactly how to do it. And Aronson’s interventions have been effective on every continent on the planet. Yet hardly any schools are doing it today. So we know how to create this emotional intelligence, how to build the ability of people to really get along with other people, to deal with conflict, to maintain intimacy, but we’re not doing it in schools. Instead we’re emphasizing just the rudiments and the basics.
What’s the role of the role of chemistry in a successful relationship?
We don’t really know. I think it’s huge you. We are animals. Liking the way your partner smells and tastes and liking to kiss your partner and hold your partner and be close; I’m sure those are very, very basic things. And we know something about maximizing genetic diversity being much more attractive, and somehow the pheromones of somebody who’s genetically different from you turns out to be very alluring. Now it doesn’t necessarily predict a good relationship because there we’re thinking with a small brain rather than big brain. But it does have an important role if you can look for these other indicators as well.