The Secrets of Eternal Lovebows

In the face of the uncertainties brought on by Covid-19, we come to appreciate what truly matters in life, reconsidering our perspective on life and economic investments. Why not use this time to also consider our most important social investment, arguably our relationship with the person we chose to share our life with?

Don’t we feel wistful when we see that rare old couple holding hands, looking so peaceful and content? While we may think that they are just lucky, the secrets of deep connectedness and lasting love have long been unearthed. This is thanks to Dr. John Gottman who avidly observed 3000+ couples across decades, and identified couples’ behaviours and attitudes that benefit or damage marriages. Subsequent research indicates that we can all cultivate our own lovebows.

But why bother, when indeed it takes effort and hard work! Well, myriad studies indicate that happy marriages pave the way for increased health, higher immunity, higher recovery rates from illness, and longer lifespans. For example, unhappily married men are 11 times more likely to die prematurely than happily married men.

The benefits of a good marriage further extend to our children. Gottman and Katz found that the higher the quality of a marriage, the less stress hormones in children. The quality of marriages not only directly impacts on children, but also indirectly impacts on parenting quality and children’s future trajectories. The better the quality of our marriage, the better the outcomes for our children! And lastly, why not have a home that is a safe place, where we feel happy and appreciated?

This may sound intuitive, but the energy source of lovebows is trust – in a much larger sense than jealousy alone. To measure trust, Dr. John Gottman used the game theory and likened own benefits to game theory payoffs. To exemplify, let’s consider washing dishes. To maximise own payoffs, one would want to persuade their partner to wash the dishes. To maximise the relationship’s payoffs though, one would want to perhaps alternate washing dishes. While washing dishes may seem trivial, a number of seemingly small acts combine to carry enormous significance over time. In this context, trust is the couple’s stance whereby each partner is ready to change their own behavior to benefit their partner, and implicitly the relationship. When trust lacks in a relationship, the partners’ position shifts to maximizing own benefits at the expense of the partner, and therefore at the expense of the relationship. When two partners seek to maximise their own payoffs, they move towards opposite sides of a camp, and gradually become adversaries. Couples who nurture their lovebows act purposefully to prevent such an adversarial stance from developing in their relationship.

To fuel our lovebow, we want to be in a trusting relationship where we maximise each other’s benefits. We want to trust that our partner has our back, and our best interest at heart. We are happy when our partner succeeds and unhappy when our partner is upset. Our happiness is interconnected. Both partners are willing to sacrifice for the marriage, by sometimes prioritizing the needs of the partner, as maintaining the partnership is the ultimate outcome.

On the other hand, when trust dissipates, we start feeling betrayed at an intuitive level – when we typically say that our partner is “changing”. To keep peace, we avoid expressing our needs, and our partner appears to be emotionally unavailable. Betrayal can have many shapes and colours. For instance, flirtatious behavior towards others indicates superficial commitment and communicates to the partner that all is good unless they come across someone better. Some other forms of betrayal are lying, emotional affairs, not being there for the partner at crucial times (eg. illness), being absent, being unavailable emotionally or sexually, breaking promises, and treating the partner with disrespect, selfishness, or unfairness.

While trust keeps the lovebow bright, love is further nurtured through deep connectedness. Happy loving couples achieve this intimacy through treating each other with appreciation and kindness, by maintaining a healthy ratio of positive to negative comments that is much higher compared to unhappy couples. These partners tend to express their appreciation for each other more often than they share their discontent. Loving partners embrace the opportunity to talk, by being responsive and genuinely interested in the topics brought up by each other. Loving partners tend to accept each other’s guidance and listen with patience to each other’s points of view. 

Another noteworthy secret of loving couples is that when they have a fight, they do not brush it under the carpet. Once tempers have cooled, they discuss the incident and they engage in repairing behaviours, such as apologizing or committing to handling such matters in better ways in the future. They intuitively avoid falling into the trap of piling unresolved issues between them. This way, they bypass the Zeigarnik effect, according to which, couples are twice as likely to recall unresolved matters than processed ones.

Another secret of loving couples is that they protect their relationship from the outside world. They work as a team and they have the attitude that their couple is a bubble within which they roll together. They keep each other informed of what is going on when they are not together, and share their stressors, challenges, and worries. They do not use these opportunities to put each other down, they maintain the bubble rolling gently, “us above the world”. These loving partners do not talk poorly of each other in front of others, and they do not compare their partners with others in negative ways (eg. “Someone else would treat me better than my partner“).

In essence, the rule of reciprocity acts at a very deep level in these loving couples. The more they give, the more they receive from their partner. This beautiful dance creates treasure chests of happy memories and enduring faith that the partners will be there for each other time after time. When hard times knock at their door, these treasure chests buffer these loving couples from aversity, allowing them to overcome challenging times. Partners in loving couples understand and accept that there are no perfect others, and thus spend their time feeling lucky for having a loving partner and protecting their relationships from the outside world.

During this current challenging climate, many of us spend significantly more time together and have the opportunity to reflect and work on our marriages. If you would like to use this time to improve your lovebow, we can commence online sessions at your earliest convenience.

Claudia Doig

MPsyc (Clin), BA Psyc (1st Class Hons), MSPS

Call/text +65 82023385 for bookings