How many motivational books have you read? You know how it goes, right? The author conveys his or her version of the secrets of life, success, or relationships through a highly subjective “10 best” strategy.
And then there are books like Eric Barker’s Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree draws on startling research, great quotes, and captivating anecdotes to help you understand what works and what doesn’t so you can stop guessing at success and start living the life you want.
The reason I mention his book is that Barker’s blog of the same title is written in the exact same fashion. And one recent piece on successful marriages popped out at me. It drew powerful “secrets” from numerous scientific findings extracted from another book Barker dissected, The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.
For the busy entrepreneur, here’s the skinny on Barker’s tips and the research cited for a happy marriage. For the full article with all the data, science geeks can hop on over to Barker’s blog.
1. Happy couples interpret things the right way.
When spouses screw up, those in happy marriages see mistakes as “external” (caused by context, not character) and “temporary” (as one-offs, not persistent traits). Barker points out, “ When they don’t do the dishes, it’s because they were busy. When they do do the dishes, it’s because they’re a good person who loves you.”
2. Happy couples have a “growth mindset” toward their relationship.
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According to psychologist Raymond Knee, partners with strong growth beliefs cultivate high-quality relationships by working and growing together. They view conflict and other relationship difficulties as opportunities to develop a stronger relationship. As Barker puts it, “A growth mindset prevents your soulmate from becoming not-your-soulmate.”
3. Happy couples give thanks.
When even just one partner feels gratitude, both partners are more satisfied with the relationship. From the research: “In the long run, people who experience elevated levels of gratitude also experience stronger relationship commitment and are less likely to break up.”
4. Happy couples engage conversations with celebration and enthusiasm.
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Barker states that every night, couples should get in the habit of sharing, with enthusiasm and open ears, the best thing that happened to them that day. Psychologists call it “capitalization.” From the research: “Couples who had been trained in enthusiastic, celebratory responding–trained to ask questions about the event, show positive emotion about it, and generally be engaged and constructive during the interaction — tended to experience greater love for each other following those nightly discussions.”
5. Happy couples openly share about their relationships with others.
When study subjects played a game involving self-disclosure with another couple, romance was rekindled, says Barker. From the research in The All-or-Nothing Marriage: “When it came to feelings of romantic passion, the self-disclosure task was especially beneficial in the double-date condition. In short, socializing with our spouse and other people can stoke the romantic fire in our marriage, but only if the socializing is fun and intimate.”
6. Happy couples have supportive friends they can talk to.
Barker says, “These days, we expect spouses to be our everything emotionally. And that is insane. You still need friends. You still need family.” More specifically, friends we can call on for different situations — what researchers refer to as having a “diversified social portfolio.” Barker says when we have a team of “emotional specialists” in the marriage — the friend who calms you down when you’re anxious, the family member who cheers you up when you’re down, the pal who helps you chill out when you’re angry — the marriage greatly improves.
7. Happy couples experience novel and exciting things together.
If things have gotten stagnant and a couple has fallen into a rut, Barker advises: “You’re not bored–you’re boring. So stop being boring. Keep doing new and exciting things together and the relationship can stay fun.” Psychologists found that couples who experience new things like ballroom dancing and taking trips together reported experiencing greater sexual desire in — and greater satisfaction with — the relationship. They were also 36 percent more likely to have sex that day.