Do you want to know the secret of a long and happy relationship? There is an excellent study of adult development that examined people continuously for six to eight decades. This Aging Well(1)study focused on three groups. First is sample of 268 socially advantaged Harvard grads born around 1920. The second group is 456 inner city men born around 1930. The third group is 682 middle-class intellectually gifted women born around 1910. The study involved eight initial in-depth psychiatric interviews to establish a baseline. The follow-up study involved interviews with them, their parents and teachers to get more objective information. Most of subjects were then followed continuously until they passed away.
I won’t bore you with all the statistics, but the task of generativity was the best predictor of an enduring and happy marriage in old age. Generativity is basically how involved we have been as parents. We generate and raise our children with a varying degree of involvement. The top four traits from the study for a long and happy marriage are generativity, commitment, tolerance and humor.
Generativity is a measure of our caretaker abilities extended into the adult relationship. The skills we use in child rearing certainly include dedicated care-taking, especially when children are young. We make a long-term commitment to our children as a matter of course, and we all know how much tolerance we need when they become adolescents. Humor is a good coping mechanism that helps relieve stress and lighten the intensity of the situation.
Good care-taking starts with an attitude of embracing the importance of relationships in general. Those who had a positive and supportive role model from their parents tend to emulate those behaviors when they become parents. But, those who did not develop basic trust with their primary caretaker tend not to be good caretakers themselves.
Relationship skills learned in childhood are usually transferred to marriage and other emotional relationships as well. The study may suggest that if your partner was not involved with child-rearing, did not bond in childhood, or is not involved in a care-taking role at work, he may not be involved with the care-taking demands of your relationship going forward.
If you do have a partner who wavers on these skills and you want to keep the relationship intact, you might consider adding care-taker development goals. These skills can be learned, of course, as long as there is motivation. If you are single and content to stay that way, you probably want your most reliable friends to have these skills.
L. Johnson of www.creativeretirementforwomen.com
(1) Vaillant, G. “Aging Well” New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2002. p.113, 123.