We all experience disagreements and arguments with our spouses. We probably even get irritated and agitated with them from time to time. Researchers in this study opened the door for such experiences by asking 154 middle-aged and older heterosexual married couples to have an intimate conversation about a “conflict in their relationship.” Can you imagine? “Have an argument about something you know you disagree about… and we’ll record you while you do.” Sounds like an invitation for trouble, doesn’t it? But researchers invited this trouble into the lab by asking couples to have this type of conversation in their presence every five years from 1989 to 2009. Trained coders observed all the videos to identify times the couple experienced moments of shared positive and negative emotions during the conflict conversation as well as positive synchrony. They witnessed these shared emotions and synchrony through nonverbal signs or unconscious “mirroring,” subtle facial expressions, head nods, smiles, leaning forward, tone of voice, body language, etc. The researchers also measured each person’s heart rate, recording times in which both partner’s heart rates slowed down or sped up simultaneously.
What did they discover? Couples who, even in conflict, shared positive moments of humor and affection and whose heart rates “beat as one” (speeding up or slowing down together) enjoyed better physical health over a 13-year period and were more likely to still be alive 30 years later. In other words, couples whose hearts literally “beat as one” and who could inject moments of humor and affection into their moments of conflict, lived longer, healthier lives. Isn’t that a wonderful gift to give your spouse?
This knowledge invites us to build a marital environment in which our hearts “beat as one” (aka—to become attuned) and an environment that will encourage mutual affection. You can do that by:
- Become a student of your spouse. Remain curious about your spouse, their world, and their thought life. Learn about your spouse’s day. Remain curious about their hopes and dreams as well as their worries and concerns. Enjoy conversations about their perspectives on the world around us. Learn something about your spouse every day.
- Sync your lives. Eat together. Go to bed together. Spend time each day talking together. Have a regular date night. Worship together. Sure, you will still have times you do things as an individual. But when you do things together you “sync your lives,” you get your hearts “beating as one.”
- Become your spouse’s number one fan. When I was in high school, I knew a woman who was our school’s number one fan. She knew the students and the teachers. She attended the school functions. And she only had good things to say about “her school” and “her kids.” Become your spouse’s number one fan. Learn all about them. Give voice to the things you admire about them. Have only good things to say about “your spouse” to other people. Praise them in public. Encourage them and thank them privately and in public. Let your spouse experience your adoration through your words and actions.
- Turn toward your spouse. When problems arise, turn toward your spouse for support and encouragement. And offer your spouse support and encouragement when difficulties arise in their lives. When times are good, turn toward your spouse to celebrate and enjoy.
- Dream together. Talk about your what would be your dream for 5-years, 10-years, even 15-years down the road. Start dreaming about your 25th or 30th anniversary when you get married…& don’t stop dreaming about it together. Talk about your dream vacation and plan how you might make it happen. Discuss your personal dreams and help one another achieve those dreams. Dream together and live toward your dreams.
These five ways you can create sweet marital moments that will help you and your spouse live a long, healthy life…and a happily married life. Once again, isn’t that a tremendous gift to give your spouse?