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Marriage is based on mutual trust, love, intimacy, and respect.

While every couple has their own unique dynamic and set of traits that they bring to the relationship, there are some universal principles that keep a marriage going strong years, and even decades, later.

Whether or not your relationship will last through the ups and downs of life can be determined by a few set of common qualities that all successful couples share. They are:

  1. Responding to connection bids
  2. Possessing high levels of grit
  3. Having compatible meta-emotional styles
  4. How couples talk about their relationship
  5. Being kind and generous
  6. Establishing healthy communication patterns
  7. Repairing every rupture

1. Responding to connection bids

A bid for connection is defined by the Gottmans as “an attempt to get attention, affection, and/or acceptance.”

Rarely will your partner express their desire to connect with you by saying outright something like, “Hey, I’d like to connect” or “Let’s share a moment together.” 

Rather, they will use these bids for connection as an attempt to get your attention and convey their desire for connection in that moment.

Bids for connection can be verbal, such as: 

  • “Wow, look at that bird outside!”
  • “You wouldn’t believe what my boss said to me today.”
  • “How did your day go?”

Bids for connection can also be nonverbal, such as sighing out loud, sitting intentionally close to your partner, and touching them.

How can you respond to connection bids from a loved one?

The Gottmans have outlined three ways in which you can respond when someone tries to get your attention. 

  1. You can turn away, which sends a message to the other person that you’re not interested in connecting with them.
  2. You can turn against, where you attack, criticize, or insult the person who’s trying to connect with you.
  3. You can turn toward, which tells the other person that you care about them enough to respond to their bids.

How bids for connection work to strengthen or weaken relationships

Bids for connections are significant because they all contain a hidden message that says, “I need to connect with you, so please shift your focus and attention to me.” 

When someone tries to get your attention, they want a clear demonstration of the fact that you’re interested in them, that you care. 

When you consistently fail to respond to your partner’s bids for connection, you’re indirectly communicating that you aren’t genuinely interested in connecting with or investing time into them. 

According to the Gottmans, happy couples constantly make and accept bids for connection in their relationship, which strengthens their bond.

Their research shows that couples in happy, successful marriages (Master Couples) accept their partner’s bids 86% of the time. On the flip side, dissatisfied and unhappy couples (Disaster Couples) respond to each other’s bids only 33% of the time. They also tend to end up getting divorced.

2. Possessing high levels of grit

Another important quality of couples in happy marriages is that they possess grit.

Grit is synonymous with courage, resilience, following through and enduring.

When you have grit, you don’t just endure what life throws at you – you actively learn and grow from challenges.

What’s interesting about grit is a research conducted in India about arranged and love marriages. 

Most people would likely agree that arranged marriages are harder in the beginning. What’s surprising is that a few years down the road, they’re as successful and often, even more successful than “love marriages.”

Love marriages tend to be happier in the beginning, but that starts to decline after the honeymoon phase. Arranged marriages, on the other hand, start out less happy but then become happier than love marriages a decade later. Then they stay that way.

What’s the reason for the success of arranged marriages? 

The researchers found that in arranged marriages, couples generally know that it’s going to require hard work and effort to make the relationship work. They already believe that love won’t take care of itself – they’ll have to put in work, dedication, and effort to foster and nurture their new relationship.

On the flip side, love marriages begin with the expectation that it will be easy. So when the honeymoon phase ends and conflicts naturally arise, most couples are caught off guard by this new development in their relationship that they never expected or prepared for.

If couples continue to hold on to the assumption that marriage and love should be easy – they often start to feel less fulfilled and more resentful as the disagreements and misalignment pile up without being duly communicated or addressed.

(Of course, this research should be taken with a grain of salt because there are numerous factors responsible for determining whether or not a relationship is successful and happy in the long term.)

So at the end of the day, grit is what makes us persevere in difficult circumstances and helps explain why arranged marriages are sometimes more successful than love marriages. 

When love feels less like a fairytale and more like effort, those with low levels of grit are more inclined to give up. 

Love endures, but not on its own. It’s not a miracle that just happens. 

Love endures when we continue to work hard to preserve it.

Are you struggling in your marriage? Need a nonjudgmental, helpful space to share your thoughts and explore what’s really going on inside? Reach out to find out how I can help!

3. Having compatible meta-emotional styles

Do you see emotions as problems to be solved or as messengers to be understood?

Your answer will likely depend on the home you were brought up in.

Each of us has a personal emotional history shaped by our upbringing and the emotional environment inside our homes. 

  1. Some people are raised in “emotion coaching” homes, where expressing your emotions is acceptable and encouraged. Your feelings of sadness, depression, worry, and anger are validated. You’re taught early on how to correctly label and regulate your feelings. 
  2. Other people are raised in homes that shun emotions and promote “emotion dismissing.” Children in these homes are frequently told to not be sad, to get over it, and that good children don’t cry. 

Kids who grow up in these homes become adults who find it difficult to connect with their own emotions and validate other people’s feelings in situations that are emotionally charged.

The important role of meta-emotions in a healthy marriage

According to John Gottman’s research, meta-emotions are the single most important factor that determines whether a marriage will last or end up in divorce. 

Meta-emotions are emotions about emotions, or feelings about feelings.

How you feel about your feelings, how you label yourself for having those feelings, all of this contributes to how you will receive and respond to your partner’s feelings.

Do you think it’s okay to express your anger? Or do you think it’s better to suppress and hold it in? Do you believe that happiness should be expressed, but “negative” emotions should be avoided? 

If you and your partner share compatible meta-emotional styles with a common attitude toward expressing and validating each other’s feelings, you’re much more likely to have a healthy, successful marriage as you both agree on how feelings should be expressed.

You both are able to handle conflict promptly and respectfully before it becomes a huge issue.

On the flip side, couples with clashing meta-emotional styles find it difficult to:

  • handle conflicts,
  • hold space for each other’s feelings, or
  • regulate and manage their own feelings in a way that’s healthy for the overall unity of the relationship.

Such couples tend to quibble over minor annoyances, turning them into big fights rife with rage and explosive anger.

4. How couples talk about their relationship

The “story of us” (your appraisal of your relationship history and your partner’s character) is a strong predictor of whether or not your marriage will last.

In a study conducted at the University of Washington, researchers discovered that they could predict whether or not a couple will divorce over the next few years with 94% accuracy simply by analyzing one thing – how they spoke about their relationship history.

Couples that glorified the struggle and amplified the positive events of the past tended to stay together.

Couples who described themselves as a the victim and their partner as the villain, bringing up all of the problems of the past when asked to share their “story of us”, tended to be unhappy, dissatisfied, and increasingly likely to end up divorced. 

You can apply this to yourself. Reflect on your relationship history and either share your story with yourself or with someone you trust.

Reflect on the following:

  1. What kind of events do you share?
  2. What kind of story does your partner tell others about your relationship?
  3. Does the narrative highlight the positives and downplay the negatives? Does it make your partner sound loving and caring?
  4. Or does it focus on the flaws? Does it focus on what your partner has done wrong in the past and continues to mess up in the present?

Couples who emphasize what’s missing from their relationships tend to be unhappier and more likely to end up getting divorced.

On the other hand, couples who focus on their partner’s positive qualities nurture gratitude, not resentment, and end up having longer, more successful marriages.

5. Being kind and generous

When it comes to maintaining a happy marriage, the old adage is true: “A little kindness goes a long way.” 

In fact, researchers created a formula for predicting how long a marriage would last with 94% accuracy. They discovered that the key factors that affect the duration and strength of a relationship are kindness and generosity. 

Islamically, we can view this as the concept of Ihsan and Khidmah.

Ihsan means to do good without expecting anything in return, purely for the sake of Allah ﷻ. Ihsan also means to beautify, and in the context of your relationships, having Ihsan beautifies your marriage.

Khidmah means to be of service to others out of free will and kindness. Tied together, being kind to your partner and being generous toward them with your love, respect, and time contribute to the overall health and strength of your marriage.

6. Establishing healthy communication patterns

Any couples who has been together for a while will tell you that one of the most important factors in maintaining closeness and intimacy in a relationship is open communication.

A lack of healthy communication leads to the breakdown of a relationship, opening the door for resentment, negative assumptions, and misunderstandings. 

Couples in marriages that withstand the test of time and age have fostered a pattern of healthy communication without lying, blaming, criticizing, insulting, or dismissing their partner. They have established effective boundaries on how to communicate without resorting to passive-aggressiveness, the silent treatment, or name calling. 

Healthy communication avoids these four apocalyptic horsemen, described by the Gottmans as indicators that a relationship is nearing its end: 

1)  Criticism

Criticism is when you stage the issue as being an inherent flaw in your partner’s character.

In general, criticism is something women do more than men, and that’s why it’s important to be aware of when your own communication is falling along the lines of criticism so you can correct your words and tone. 

2) Defensiveness

Defensiveness arises as the automatic, knee jerk reaction to criticism.

Defensiveness can manifest as either counter-attacking or playing the victim by whining. Couples who feel secure and are open in their communication will invite their partner to talk more about what they’re experiencing, without feeling the need to deflect or get defensive.

3) Contempt

Among the four horsemen, contempt is the number one predictor of whether or not a relationship will last. Contempt is when you talk down to your partner and believe or act like you’re superior to them. 

What’s even more astonishing is that not only does contempt most accurately predict breakups, it also leads to a much higher number of infectious illnesses over the years in the partner who is on the receiving end of the contempt. 

Contempt destroys a person’s mental AND physical health, which is even more of a reason to learn how to communicate better with your partner.

4) Stonewalling

Stonewalling is usually in response to contempt. It involves shutting down or tuning out your partner.

Rather than actively address the conflict or problem at hand, stonewalling tells your partner that you don’t care. Most of the time, men do this in relationships, and if left without repair, it can slowly disintegrate your marriage. 

7. Repairing every rupture

This is one of my favorite concepts to share when a client brings up their relationship struggles. It’s a universal technique that can be applied to all of your important relationships, from your relationship with your parents and siblings, to partner and children, and even friends.

The truth is, you’re always going to face disagreements and conflicts in your relationships.

In fact, research on couples shows that if you’re not having conflicts 3 years into a relationship, that’s an indication that the relationship is actually unhealthy in some way.

So now that you know that not only are conflicts expected, but they’re actually healthy if handled the right way, what do you do if you mess up, hurt your partner, or get into a big fight (basically the ruptures in a relationship)?

You repair the wound.

You go out of your way to make it up to your partner in the way they need. You show them you’re sorry. You validate their hurt feelings. 

At the end of the day, it’s not the ruptures that matter. What matters is whether or not those ruptures get repaired. Couples who have a ratio of 5 to 1 with their positive, loving interactions outnumbering the negative ones tend to have long lasting, healthy marriages as compared to couples who don’t take the time to repair the wounds they caused.

So while marriages definitely require responsibility, commitment, grit, and dedication, the payoff in terms of the fulfilment and joy you find in your partner makes it all well worth the effort in the long run.

What’s a quality mentioned above that you hadn’t given much thought to? Leave your comments below and I’d love to continue exploring these concepts with you, insha Allah!


Khadija Khan

Khadija Khan is a mental health and spiritual wellness coach. With over 5 years of experience, she is passionate about helping Muslim women heal from depression and anxiety to find joy and fulfilment in their lives. She writes on the topics of Islamic spirituality, relationships, parenting, and personal development. Continue Reading...


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