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Can kindness save a relationship

Can kindness save a relationship

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Only three out of ten couples manage to sustain long term happy relationships. A large study in America has carried out extensive research into this and has come up with some very interesting and revealing findings.

Fight or flight

The study interviewed thousands of couples who’d been together for at least six years and whilst interviewing them, wired them up to machines that measured the stress levels in their systems as they spoke about their relationships. The couples that were in trouble showed all the signs of being in fight or flight mode in their nervous systems. In other words, their stress systems were highly aroused, which translated means that for them, sitting next to their partners and trying to communicate, was the equivalent of feeling intense threat and anxiety that a disaster is about to take place.

Trust between couples

The physiological results of communicating in this way meant that their heart rates soared and the levels of aggression in the communication between them increased. The differences that showed in the people whose relationships were thriving, were that an atmosphere of trust had been created, so that even when they went through challenging times, their nervous systems stayed relatively calm. This resulted in a level of intimacy that made them emotionally and physically much more comfortable.

One simple question

When the researchers looked more in detail at the specific conditions that created a culture of love and trust, the key factor was regular and ongoing invitations for connection that were met by the other partner. To put this in simple terms, both partners met each other’s emotional needs. This was summed up by the main researcher into a straightforward question – ‘with regard to the spirit that a person brings to a relationship, do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism and hostility?’


An attitude of kindness results in a state of mind whereby each person is scanning the environment for things that they can appreciate and say thank you for. Conversely, couples who create a hostile dynamic are scanning for ways in which they can criticise each other, and in doing so, often miss up to 50% of things that they could appreciate in another person. This regularly leads to expressing contempt to a partner, which has been named as the number one killer in intimate relationships because it both damages the relationship and can leave a person feeling unworthy.

Strengthen a bond

Can kindness save a relationshipKindness can literally glue a couple together. It is the single most effective trait that can strengthen the positive bond between two people. This trait can be thought of something that is innate or it can be seen as a muscle that can be strengthened with practice. Without doubt, some people start off with a stronger kindness muscle; they may have been treated with more kindness in their early lives or they may have a natural disposition to this way of behaving.

How to be kinder

The good news is that everyone can develop a strong muscle of kindness. The hardest time to practice kindness is during a fight, but this is also the most important time to turn towards your partner and practice kindness. Being kind doesn’t mean that anger doesn’t get expressed, it is more about how anger is communicated rather than suppressing it.

Essentially it is helpful to think about how to build kindness into the backbone of a relationship. Buying little treats is a sweet way to relate, but it’s the more day to day practices that run deeper. It is in the way you interact with each other, the assumptions you make about each other’s behaviours and how you interpret intensions. As well as being there for each other when the going gets tough, it’s important to be there when things are going well, taking the time to celebrate in each other’s joys. The main driver that breaks a relationship down is a breakdown in the amount of kindness shown to each other, ways that respect and accept the other person as someone who is doing their utmost best in life and in partnership.




About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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