What is Relationship Science?
Relationship Science is the study of interaction between two individuals who are committed in a relationship.
You might imagine that this field would be highly developed and full of insightful research findings, but surprisingly Dr. John Gottman, considered by many, the leading figure in this field only began studying couples in the early 90s.
There have been individuals alongside Gottman, and before him, working with couples and writing helpful books and holidng conferences. The man that seems most prolific is Dr. John Grey, author of the famous book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of this book. Grey actively gave seminars and promoted his books in the 80s and 90s. In many ways, Grey is more of a talented salesman than a research psychologist. Many experts have already criticized Grey’s contribution to relationship help so we won’t go into that here, but although his fundamental conclusions about relationships are misguided, couples have benefited being exposed to some relationship help, even Grey’s, when they’re thirsty for it.
Gottman and Grey embody some of the most important differences between those who come from a scientific background and those who publish material (primarily or solely) based on their experience and intuition. However, let’s be honest, there are limits and weaknesses in relationship science still.
Gottman’s strength, and generally speaking anyone using a scientific method in an academic institution, is being “looked over” in everything they do. There are detailed processes for all aspects, from the moment you place an ad to recruit participants to the moment the experiment is all done and you’re ready to publish the results. People outside the scientific/academic institution don’t have this oversight and are free to arrive at conclusions however they see fit.
Vulnerability: Masters at marriage are always asking questions about their partner, and disclosing personal details about themselves.” —Gottman
Even within a prestigous institution, some researchers are better than others.
Gottman’s research is considered exceptional for three reasons:
- He observed what couples did and how they interacted in his “love lab” (an apartment with video cameras) in various contexts.
- He had long follow-up periods.
- He used physiological markers, heart rate and sweat response, to note when particpants became aggravated or their heart-rate increased.
Say Gottman only followed a few couples for a few years, instead of 20 years. Well, we know that divorce hovers around 50% in the US and we also know that most divorce occurs around the 8th year of marriage. If Gottman didn’t follow-up in the long-term then he wouldn’t be able to give a realistic picture of divorce trends in the US. His findings sum up what actually leads to divorce and what doesn’t, what keeps a couple strong and together, and can any of this be taught to avoid divorce—and it can.
There’s quite an issue in psychology research with separating true responses and those that might be influenced. In other words, how confident can we be that when a participant shares that she’s not that upset about a specific argument? Unless we took her heart rate and blood pressure to bypass any ambiguity, and know indeed if her body showed physiological stress during an argument.
There are hundreds of studies conducted every year around the world. We’ve only covered one researcher here. Keep in mind that research is a modern tool that we can rely on to make informed decisions, but no finding is 100% likely to happen or to apply to you. Researchers frequently use statistics to analyze their data and this requires that averages be calculated. So, you really have to ask yourself, “how average am I?” Then proceed from there. It’s important to personalize information and actively seek out that which applies to you and ignore the parts that have no relevance.