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Improve Your Relationship w 5 Science-based Tips

Hadley Finch Intro: Discover proven secrets of happy relationships

courtesy of a WashingtonPost Valentine’s Day article

By Richard Sima
February 14, 2024 at 6:30 a.m. EST

How connected are you and your partner? Try taking
the “bird test” to find out.

Here’s how it works.

Next time you’re looking out the window or
taking a walk or drive, make a point to notice a
bird and see how your partner responds. Do they
look up from their phone and ask what kind of
bird? Do they come to the window to see it or
otherwise engage with it (and you)?

The idea behind the “bird test,” which went
viral on TikTok, is based on the work of John and
Julie Gottman, the renowned husband-wife
relationship researchers and authors of “The
Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy,
Connection, and Joy.”

The Gottmans have found through their research
that partners in relationships naturally and
regularly make attempts to connect with their
partner. The Gottmans call these attempts
“bids,” which are everyday ways of expressing
what we want from one another.

Turning toward your partner
When we encounter a bid for connection — such as
our partner noticing a bird and telling us about
it — we are presented with an opportunity to
“turn towards”— or turn away.

The point of the “bird test” isn’t really to
test your partner, but to showcase how commonplace
these bids and opportunities to connect are,
whether they are about birds or something else.
Sharing about your day, struggles at work, dreams
for the future or even a meme over social media
are all bids for connection. How we respond to
these “bids” matters to the health of our
relationship.

“It really involves building trust and letting
your partner know that you really care about their
feelings and needs as much as you care about your
own,” John Gottman said.

In one famous study, John Gottman and his
colleagues videotaped 130 newlywed couples and
analyzed their interactions with one another. How
often those couples turned toward one another
following bids for connection corresponded to
their relationship status in a follow-up six years
later.

The couples that were still happily married had
turned toward their partners 86 percent of the
time that one of them initiated a “bid.” Those
who were unhappy or divorced had turned toward
their partners just 33 percent of the time.

“You have to heighten your awareness of when
your partner is making a bid for connection,”
Julie Gottman said. Being mindful and
acknowledging that you heard them is simple, she
said. “That’s all it takes. That’s what
turning towards is.”

Here are four more science-based tips from
relationship researchers to help strengthen your
relationship.

Develop a gratitude habit
Expressing gratitude helps bring us closer to our
partner. Among relationship-promoting behaviors,
the role of gratitude has some of the strongest
scientific evidence behind it, said Sara Algoe,
psychologist at the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill and director of the Love
Consortium, an organization working to accelerate
the scientific understanding of human connection.

In a 2022 study of 125 couples, Algoe and her
colleagues studied the effect of nudging one
partner to express more gratitude.

The researchers informed the participants of the
relationship benefits of expressing gratitude and
asked the participants to express gratitude for
their partner whenever they felt grateful. They
were also advised to remember: “If my partner
does something that I appreciate, then I will
express my gratitude.”

The nudge increased how often the partner
expressed gratitude over the following three
weeks. Notably, expressions of gratitude led the
couple to spend more time together – about 68
minutes more each day.

Gratitude can be as small as a thank you when your
partner brings you coffee or a grander gesture
such as flowers or a gift.

Think about what you admire and respect in your
partner, Julie Gottman said. Try to notice and
appreciate even the little things they regularly
do.

Practice “really noticing what’s positive in
the relationship,” John Gottman said. “The
details aren’t as important as that habit of
mind, where both people are really feeling
appreciated for what they do and who they are.”

In one study, Algoe and her former student, Laura
Kurtz, videotaped 71 heterosexual couples talking
with one another about how they first met. The
couples were then asked to choose Venn diagrams to
represent how close they felt to their partners.
Researchers found that couples who shared more
laughter chose the diagrams with more overlap.

In contrast, the amount of time each person spent
laughing separately did not seem to positively
affect the relationship quality.

Results from another study suggest that shared
laughter makes people feel like they are more
similar to one another, which in turn promotes
relationship well-being.

“Shared laughter works pretty remarkably well by
making us feel like we are connected in that
moment, like we are in sync,” Algoe said. “I
like to call it ‘the mind meld.’”

Set up more situations where you are naturally
more likely to laugh with your partner, such as
games or challenging new activities where neither
person knows how to do it, Algoe said.

Hug and hold hands
Another powerful way to connect is by literally
reaching out: hugging, kissing or holding hands.

Our skin is replete with touch sensors known as
C-tactile fibers that are wired for social touch
and are optimized to detect gentle stroking that
many people find pleasant. Social touch releases
oxytocin, the social bonding hormone in the brain,
which is thought to reduce anxiety and pain.

Affectionate touch is associated with how
responsive couples perceived their partners to be,
Algoe and her colleagues reported in a 2022 study
of 842 participants.

“It can be just sitting next to each other on
the couch, a pat on the arm or an arm around the
shoulder,” Algoe said. “These moments just
have a little spark of intimacy and can bring us
closer together.”

Create rituals of emotional connection
Every year for the last 23 years, the Gottmans go
on a “honeymoon,” bringing their kayak to
Canada and renting the same room at the same
bed-and-breakfast.

Once there, they ask each other three questions.
“What did you like last year? What sucked about
last year? What would you like for next year?”
John Gottman explained. “And we take two weeks
to answer those questions.”

These rituals need not be elaborate but are
intentionally predesigned interactions discussed,
agreed upon and practiced by both people. It might
be a ritual like kissing each other hello at the
end of the day or how you celebrate each other’s
birthdays.

Successful couples create these rituals, which
help convey the idea to their partner that
“baby, when you’re upset, the world stops, and
I listen,” John Gottman said. “These rituals
of emotional connection are really important.”

Do you have a question about human behavior or
neuroscience? Email [email protected] and
we may answer it in a future column.

And claim a gift copy of Hadley Finch’s favorite radio interviews

with love experts at www.happysexyloveinromanticrelationships.com

About Hadley Finch

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