Husband and Wife Scientists Dedicate Their Lives to the Study of Love

uditha wickramanayaka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
uditha wickramanayaka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0 / uditha wickramanayaka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Is there a science to staying in love? Husband and wife scientists John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, of the Gottman Institute, think so. They’ve been studying love—using their own relationship as a test subject—for two decades, and they’ve developed a sophisticated couples therapy program based on their observations of themselves and over 3000 real relationships.

According to The Atlantic, John Gottman first started his unconventional “Love Lab” at the University of Washington in 1986. He’d bring in couples to talk through problems, hook them up to electrodes, and monitor their heart rates as they talked through issues. He checked in with couples periodically, monitoring the progress of their relationships, and slowly discovered the markers of healthy and unhealthy relationships. For example, he observed that many of the couples that later broke up had elevated heart rates while talking through mundane issues. Now, using the markers he observed, Gottman can predict whether couples will stay together or break up with 94 percent accuracy.

But the Drs. Gottman don’t just observe their subjects in the sterile world of the lab. They’ve hosted research-based couples retreats that served as a chance to observe romantic relationships in a more natural environment. There, they observed that the most successful couples make “bids” for each other’s attention, and respond supportively, while less successful couples tend to ignore each other’s “bids.”

As for their own relationship, the Gottmans have studied their fights and used their findings to devise methods of reconciliation that they now expound in their popular love workshops. One journalist from The Huffington Post, who recently attended their Art and Science of Love seminar, observed that John and Julie haven’t eliminated arguments from their relationship; rather, they argue with compassion. The seminar, which is aimed both at struggling couples and those who just want to understand each other better, is all about helping couples develop ongoing strategies for communication. The Gottmans—whose research is longitudinal—recognize that there are no quick fixes in relationships; rather, their program focuses on the ongoing process of staying in love, and the work that goes into building and maintaining relationships over many years.

[h/t The Atlantic]