As you probably already know, there isn't just one key to ensure long-term relationship success. From sharing laughs to having open and honest communication, research has found there's actually quite a bit of different things you should have in order to have a happy relationship. And according to a new study published in the journal Emotion, there's another one: compassion is the most important quality to have in a happy marriage. "Practicing compassion is as much about what we don't share as what we do," Evie Shafner, LMFT, therapist and one of the founders of the Los Angeles Women’s Therapy Center tells Bustle. "The little moments of annoyance or irritation, a look, a tone of disapproval — these little things we don’t say can do so much to destroy any good efforts. So, practicing containing criticism of any kind is as important as saying kind and loving things."
Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, and colleagues studied 175 heterosexual newlyweds who were married for an average of seven months. For two weeks, participants were asked to keep a daily diary and record instances where either spouse put aside their personal wants in order to meet their partner's needs. Participants also kept track of their daily emotional states based on 14 positive and negative word choices like enthusiastic, happy, angry, and hurt.
On average, it was found that husbands and wives give and receive and average of .65 and .59 "compassionate acts" each day. Acts included things like changing their individual plans for the sake of their partner's and showing more affection to their spouse. As it was found, donors of the acts felt the greatest impacts when their acts were recognized by the recipients. Recipients also benefitted the most when the act was recognized as being intentional. But the best finding of all was that donors emotionally benefitted from acts regardless of whether or not recipients explicitly noticed the act. In other words, as they wrote in the study, "acting compassionately may be its own reward."
So clearly in this case, it feels much better to give than it is to receive. As this study found, showing your partner you care through compassionate acts can be beneficial to both you and your partner. Here are ways to be more compassionate in your relationship:
1. Build Some Type Of Ritual Into Your Everyday Life
Try to build some kind of couples ritual into your day-to-day routine. That could mean anything from enjoying a cup of coffee together in the morning before you leave for work to reading together before bed at night. "Life is full of non-verbals," April Davis, Relationship Expert, and CEO of LUMA (Luxury Matchmaking) tells Bustle. "Most of the time we're just looking to be in the presence of our loved ones."
2. Show And Tell Your Partner How Much They Mean To You As Often As You Can
Don't ever take those three little words for granted, no matter how long you've been together. As Davis says, "Saying 'I love you,' means a lot. But 'I appreciate you' will make your partner feel valued."
3. Increase The Amount Of Daily Positive Interactions
"Just reducing negative interactions is not enough for most couples to feel satisfied in their relationship, they also need to experience regular positives," Nicole Prause, Ph.D., sexual psychophysiologist and founder of Liberos LLC tells Bustle.
As part of Behavioral Couples Therapy, Prause says couples are encouraged to schedule daily activities with their partner that are positive, authentic, and manageable. For instance, if you know your partner's favorite gum, maybe you can buy them a pack along with their morning coffee every Monday morning.
"Sometimes partners resist this because it is 'scheduled' and therefore 'not real' as an expression of affection," Prause says. "But it is important not only for a person to be regularly positive with their partner, but also for that effort to not be challenged just because they are benefiting from calendar reminders!"
So if you're struggling to figure out what your partner might like, just ask. Brainstorm ideas for ways to show your interest and care. Furthermore, this therapy also includes "love days." In order to add more positives in the relationship, you can surprise your partner by picking a day to just four to five positives for them instead of the usual one.
"There is no reason these need to be a big secret or grand gesture, the idea is just to increase daily positive interactions," she says.
4. Be Understanding
When your partner is having a rough day or just going through something internally, be aware that understanding must precede advice. "When our partner encounters a problem or an obstacle, it can be our instinct to fix our partner's problem by offering advice or giving examples of similar problems we've experienced," Christopher Stroven, MA LLPC, marriage therapist and owner of Kalamazoo Integrative Counseling tells Bustle. There will always be a time and place to solve the problem, but first, you partner needs compassion. They need you to just simply listen and validate their concerns.
"Take your cue from your partner when they're ready to start problem solving. Until then, show compassion by listening, validating, and being present," he says.
5. Lean In
Lean in and stop everything when your S.O. is speaking to you. As Nasira Nekisha Michelle, MSW, love mentor and CEO of Ultimate Match tells Bustle, "That will make your partner feel heard, relevant and safe."
6. Show Gratitude
According to The Gottman Institute, gratitude is the number one predictor a successful marriage. Because of that, gratitude is one of the best ways to shift perspectives when tensions get high in a relationship. "It is physically impossible, and proven by the latest neuroscience research about gratitude, to feel appreciative and fear or anxiety at the same time," Jessie Gardner, founder of HeySoul and The Gratitude Experience tells Bustle. "When times get tough, being able to find even one thing to be grateful for personally or about your partner shifts the activity in your brain and perspective to a more positive one and gets you out of the cycle of stress, worry, and negativity."
7. Practice Loving Kindness During The Four Critical Moments Of The Day
While it's important to be kind and loving all day, these four critical moments are when we should be most mindful: when we first see each other in the morning, when we say goodbye, when we first see each other at the end of the day, and when we say goodnight. "All of this will lead to a climate of compassion in your relationship," she says. "And that is a very good climate indeed!"
There isn't just one ultimate key that will ensure you a happy, loving and successful relationship. You really need a good mix of everything. This study, as well as what experts have said, prove that compassion is another equally important trait to be mindful of.