I have been reading Proverbs for the past couple months and one thing I’ve noticed is all the relationship advice! Proverbs is forever talking about how to communicate, what makes a good marriage, what kind of wife a man wants to be around, and what kind of men you shouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. And frankly, the advice is really good. (Surprise, surprise :) When I read a proverb like this…
An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city.
Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.
…I immediately recognize the truth in it, but can also remember a dozen times I let an argument come between me and my husband.
The scientist John Gottman has spent the past several decades studying marriages, trying to scientifically determine what makes a good marriage (happy, no divorce) and what makes a bad marriage (unhappy or divorced). As I read an article about his work, I was struck by how many times his findings reinforced the proverbs that Solomon wrote 3,000 years ago. So, here’s some relationship advice from King Solomon and John Gottman ::
Contempt is toxic
Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
and quarreling and abuse will cease.
Contempt…is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there. People who give their partner the cold shoulder—deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally—damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner’s ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.
It’s in your favor to be kind
A man who is kind benefits himself,
but a cruel man hurts himself.
Research…has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.
“A good relationship requires sustained hard work”
What is desired in a man is steadfast love…
There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. [People in good marriages] tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.
Be kind even when you’re fighting
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
The hardest time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight—but this is also the most important time to be kind. Letting contempt and aggression spiral out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.
Faithfulness is difficult, but rewarding
Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,
but a faithful man who can find?
In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.
I highly recommend reading both Proverbs and this article. Proverbs has all kinds of advice, not just for relationships, but also for pleasing God, staying out of trouble, and just generally being an awesome person. The Atlantic article is a striking exposition on relationships that work, with lots of food for thought.
What about you? Any piece of advice that particularly struck home? How does this influence or change your beliefs about what makes a good relationship? What about communication? Does any of this challenge your opinions about conflict and disagreement? What about the bit about the significance of kindness in a relationship? What are your thoughts?
(Photo via The Quiet Front)