I was never much of a student at university. I wasn’t the one impatiently waiting for the library doors to open so I could spend the next ten hours delving deeper and deeper into the research stacks. But now I’m like a hound dog sniffing around the internet for interesting research about love, dating and marriage.
Last Sunday morning I hit the jackpot. I found a study from the University of Maryland that made me think. The study concluded that those people who predicted they would be happy in their relationship in the future were more committed and nicer to their partners now.
Edward Lemay, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland did a series of experiments with 200 couples spanning a year. Couples who demonstrated more optimism about their future together during their first visit to his lab grew more committed to each other over the course of the year. They also accommodated each other’s needs more, and disagreed in a more respectful way.
But what does being optimistic about the future look like in practice? It took me a while to figure that out because I hadn’t looked at my own long marriage through that lens before. But upon reflection there are several things that my husband and I do that show each other that we are in it for the long haul.
Here are my three examples. How are you are demonstrating optimism in your own relationship?
1. Sharing Finances
Being optimistic about our future together means pooling our financial resources. If we didn’t think our love would last, we would most likely be squirreling away money in separate bank accounts. Some research suggests that couples who keep their finances separate have a lower success rate and I can see why. Sharing finances requires trust, an attitude of “what’s mine is yours,” and the ability to work through differences about how to spend and save money in a constructive way. My husband and I have certainly been on different pages on the finance front. I want to save for a rainy day whereas he sees money as a tool to enjoy life now—but being a couple requires figuring out compromises we can both live with. Managing just one’s own money would be an easy out.
2. Supporting Career Choices
Another demonstration of optimism in our relationship future is supporting each other’s career choices. When my husband finished law school we decided together that he would pursue human rights work rather than corporate work that paid multiples more. I knew this work fed his purpose and one couldn’t put a price on that. More recently, he supported me taking journalism courses and pursuing writing opportunities in favour of more lucrative consulting contracts—even though this has come with a significant financial sacrifice. Supporting each other’s careers is believing in each other’s futures and a future together.
3. Inking in Date Night
Perhaps the best indicator of believing in our future is making a point of doing fun things together, often planning months ahead. We have different interests—my husband loves classical music and I love plays—but we support each other’s interests and go to most events together. We buy annual subscriptions to a concert series that is more my husband’s musical taste. He always says at the end, “Thanks for coming with me.” I like yoga so we have bought a book of passes and try to go to a class together at least a couple times a month. I always say, “Thanks for coming with me.” Believing in our future, means sharing in the other person’s joy, and creating shared memories.
Whether you are dating, in the early years of your relationship, or an older married couple, isn’t a positive attitude about your future a good thing to have? After all, how we think about our relationship determines how we act too. If we aren’t optimistic, our negative attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Acting like we intend to be together for the long haul may be just the positive thinking that is needed to make happily ever after come true.