When was the last time you explicitly expressed your love to your partner or greeted him or her with a warm hug? Explicitly expressing our feelings toward our partners may not be something we want or do daily. However, a deep level of connection and security draws us closer to our partner for reasons we cannot articulate.
However, there are those moments in a day when you get on each other’s nerves. Does that mean we must bury our day-to-day emotions and look at the long-standing bond we share with our partners for a sustainable relationship?
Well, yes and no.
‘How’ rather than ‘what’ makes the difference
Dr Sarah Sease, a 33-year-old American expat who works as a clinical psychologist at Maple Tree in Dubai, says how we express our emotions can make or break a relationship.
Depending on how you emote, you can be drawn closer to your partner or move further away...Therefore, it is less about what or when we emote and more about how we emote and the consequences that unfold.
"Depending on how you emote, you can be drawn closer to your partner or move further away." For instance, when I emote happiness, it brings me closer. On the contrary, expressing your happiness when your partner has had a rough day can push you both away. "Therefore, it is less about what or when we emote and more about how we emote and the consequences that unfold," said Dr. Sease.
A recent study at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA, suggests that we must train ourselves to tap out the daily emotions that colour our feelings and tap into the longer-held associations within.
The science behind happy relationships
A recent study by Grace Larson and her colleagues at Dickinson College suggests that to maintain a long-lasting relationship, we must ignore the everyday hiccups that happen in all relationships and look at the deeper connection we have towards our partners.
Relationships can be complex. There is always a slight gap between what we say and what we feel. Sometimes we don't feel the need to express ourselves explicitly. We tend to move on with our chores, although we might want to express ourselves a little more.
"It’s okay to let things go in a relationship."
Don’t let the little things obscure the big picture. But it’s also very important that you consider where your feelings and emotions are coming from. That can help you let things go more easily.
We go to bed at the same time almost every night. We have a rule that we never go to bed angry, but instead talk things out before saying goodnight. It is so hard, but it is so worth it.
“We go to bed at the same time almost every night. We have a rule that we never go to bed angry, but instead talk things out before saying goodnight. It is so hard, but it is so worth it," said Sharon Saldanha, a 28-year-old Indian expat who works as a social media and marketing manager, and her husband, Bosco Pereira, a 29-year-old Indian expat who works in sales and tourism services in Dubai.
Speaking about the same, Dr Sease added that it is important to sideline the emotional hiccups that occur day-to-day in relationships and look at the bigger picture.
We all hold mental pictures of people, just like a Polaroid. Pictures of the people we are closest to appear in high definition. This high definition or closeness in this context requires a dramatic condition for it to shift out of focus. On the other hand, people who are not in high definition — co-workers, for instance — can do things differently, and we thereby tend to change their perspective easily. As a result, it takes something drastic to change your opinion of someone close to you, according to Dr Sease.
Tapping out everyday hiccups
Researchers at Dickinson College analysed whether day-to-day fluctuations in emotions affected the quality of relationships. Larson and her fellow researchers studied specific types of implicit and explicit partner evaluations.
Implicit partner evaluation (IPE) is the spontaneous emotions we feel toward our partners, while explicit partner evaluation (EPE) is more based on self-assessment. Larson’s research revealed that the IPEs of intimate relationships tend to remain constant, while the IPEs of those whom we don’t know very well might fluctuate.
A growth mindset is where two people are willing to work on their relationship and improve it. If this is present in a relationship, it is a good predictor of a long-term bond.
According to Dr Nikita Barretto, a 34-year-old Indian expat who works as a clinical psychologist in Dubai, any relationship has two aspects of implicit ideas: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
The fixed mindset provides a "made for each other" kind of approach, whereas the growth mindset is where two people are willing to work on their relationship and improve it. If this is present in a relationship, it is a good predictor of a long-term bond.
Explicit evaluations, on the other hand, she said, are situational and based on self-assessment. For instance, when you fight with your partner, you might not like him at that moment, but in the larger picture, you will still love him or her.
Dr Barretto further added that this methodology is similar to the concept of "positive perspective" in Gottman’s theory.
John Mordechai Gottman is an American psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, USA. According to this theory, positive sentiment override is critical to any relationship. That is, when there’s a conflict with your partner, the positive relationship you share with your partner overrides the situation. As a result, it has no long-term impact on your relationship.
The human mind is often naturally fickle and capricious. Hence, it’s best to train the mind to kindle only thoughts that invoke deep love for a long-lasting relationship.
"The human mind is often naturally fickle and capricious." The senses are inextricably subject to varying thoughts and emotions that determine action or reaction. This could often result in negative feelings. "Hence, it’s best to train the mind to kindle only thoughts that invoke deep love for a long-lasting relationship," Balaji, a 56-year-old retired Indian expat based in Dubai, told Gulf News.
The IPE-EPE distinction became even more evident in the second study, where Larson and her team asked participants to maintain a two-week diary of all the positive and negative interactions with their partners. The findings revealed that IPEs were less sensitive to daily fluctuations than EPEs. However, over time, researchers observed that EPEs tend to have a collective effect on IPEs.
This tends to happen in the case of a crisis like abusive relationships, past traumas, or breakups, where positive IPEs eventually come crashing down.
"I fully agree with the study." It’s always good to be aware of how you feel about your partner. Focusing on long-term relationship goals rather than minor conflicts will help build healthy relationships.
"No relationship can thrive on daily emotions because these are subject to the situation on that particular day," Priya Balaji, a 50-year-old retired Indian expat based in Dubai, told Gulf News.
Reinforcing the study, Lauren Kerry, a 29-year-old British expat living in Dubai with her husband, Kareem Kerry, a 33-year-old expat from Trinidad and Tobago, said that negative vibes should not be brought home or cast onto your partner. You need to be able to keep those feelings aside so they do not affect the relationship.
Although you may be venting, you should be able to block out everyday feelings, especially the bad ones.
Tip to develop long-standing relationships
According to Dr Sease, emotions can be fluid, influenced, and change. Besides, several things can impact our emotions, like hunger, sleep, how our day was, etc.
To build long-standing relationships, we have to rely on our values and morals and stand by what’s important to us. Day-to-day hiccups happen in all relationships. We must tap it out and look at the longer-held association.
Here’s how to build long-standing relationships.
1. Set intentions
Just like how we set goals in our careers, it is important to have relationship goals.
Clearly define the type of relationship you want to have, how you can strengthen it, what your partner's and your expectations are, and so on.
"Clearly define the type of relationship you want to have, how you can strengthen it, what your partner's and your expectations are, and so on." This will pave out a clear direction for the relationship, making the foundation strong," said Dr Sease.
2. Stay healthy
While it is important to nurture your relationship, Dr Sease says it is equally important to stay mentally and physically healthy. If you’re healthy, having a healthy relationship becomes much easier. You are less cranky, your mood is good, you have a calm state of mind, and therefore the relationship does not suffer.
3. Stay curious
Most of us tend to think that curiosity in a relationship exists only at the beginning or in the nascent stage. But this isn’t true. "One thing I advise couples in long-term relationships is to stay curious." The thought of ‘I know my partner’, can be boring. So, keep asking, ‘Who is this person?’, ‘What do they like?’ etc., and you will discover new things every day. "This is extremely important in building long-term bonds," added Dr. Sease.
4. Build love maps
As old-fashioned as it may sound, understanding each other’s likes and dislikes, is the first step to a successful relationship. Dr Barretto adds that this will, in turn, reinforce your IPE as you get to know your partner better.
5. Replace ‘I’ with ‘We’
If there’s an ‘I’ rather than a ‘we’, it will affect the Implicit partner evaluation (IPE) or the spontaneous emotions we feel toward our partners.
In any conflict, ensure you avoid criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. "If there’s an ‘I’ rather than a ‘we’, it will affect the IPE. "Any relationship is about two people, and we need to make space for each other to be in it," Dr Barretto told Gulf News.