Why There Is Such A Large Gap Between Known Science And Common Knowledge When It Comes To Long-term, Committed Relationships
In 1898 medical student Hermann Rottmann proposed that tobacco dust may cause elevated incidence of lung tumors among German tobacco workers. In 1912, Isaac Adler refined Rottman’s hypothesis, asserting tobacco smoke, not dust, was the cause. In December 1938 FH Müller published a study comparing 86 lung cancer cases to a similar number of cancer-free controls. He concluded those with lung cancer were far more likely to have smoked than those without. And thus the first of many formal studies linked smoking to cancer.
As a child in the 80s I distinctly remember having to specify if we wanted to sit in smoking or non-smoking areas of restaurants. It was as some invisible barrier prevented air circulating from one side of the room to the other. Half of all doctors smoked cigarettes in the 1960s. Cigarette advertising wasn’t banned until 1970. This is an extreme example of the glacial pace at which information spreads. It is also a reminder of the time it takes for general society to change its behavior. Whether the smoking information lag measures 40, 60, or 100 years isn’t relevant. The fact it is measured on a scale of decades does.
When it comes to our spouses and significant others, the partners whom we share our lives with, we are stuck with that same gap in knowledge!
Everywhere we look we see breakups, divorce, loneliness, unhappy couples, disconnection, conflict. It can seem arbitrary and bleak. Some people get lucky and stumble upon a happy relationship. The rest of us have little agency over these outcomes.
However, that mindset is false! There is logic to love and romantic relationships. And there are measurable physical and psychological benefits of secure love.
We don’t realize it because it hasn’t entered the cultural zeitgeist. It’s not yet common knowledge. But people have begun connecting the dots. The Isaac Adlers and FH Müllers of today have already conducted their research. Researchers and therapists such as John Gottman, Diana Fosha, Terry Real, Stephen Porges, Sue Johnson and many others have pushed the knowledge and understanding of relationships and emotions into the 21st century.
But their lessons get lost in the firehose of today’s information super highway. When you look close it’s not a surprise that this is the case. Even though we are in the age of the internet and instant access we now have a new problem. Social media and advertisements bombard us with unrealistic expectations. Although not as malicious as the tobacco industry, it is damaging nonetheless. A television show might have a married couple that never stop squabbling, they hate each other, and we get it! They’re married, of course they hate each other. The subtext implies “that’s just the way it is with all married couples.” In this case something that we all relate to, is being conflated for an unavoidable state of being. We know that prevention is more effective than treatment. That emotional debris builds up in long term relationships (even healthy ones). A well maintained relationship thrives. But left unchecked the emotional debris will bury a relationship. Unresolved conflict leads to resentment, then contempt, and ultimately separation. There are well defined routines, rituals, and intentional ways to be with one another that can help couples clear out emotional debris and strengthen their connection and enjoyment of each other. But we lag behind the available information.
The movie script calling for a deeper examination of attachment styles doesn’t exist. Where is the exploration on the impact of childhood trauma on adult relationships? These behaviors can have serious long term negative consequences on our primary relationship.
Instead you see characters live “happily ever after”. You find “the one”, sit back, relax and enjoy your reward. A happy everlasting relationship — with no work required to maintain the connection! We know this is not the case. Relationships are hard work. Even for the best of us, fighting and disconnection is inevitable. Research has proven the couples that stay together are better at repairing. They repair wholly and rapidly. It’s not about avoiding the argument. It’s about how do you become teammates after. How do you master this essential piece of the relationship puzzle? Again, we lag behind the available information.
My why is simple. I’ve experienced the transformation from ignorance to awareness. I’ve felt first hand as it changed my outlook on life and on my relationship with my wife and daughters. I continue to learn about the science of our brains, emotions, and how we form habits. How our brain works to optimize our life — including our partners. How the style of attachment and bonding we learn in childhood persists into our adulthood, whether we realize it or not. How our families of origin create biases that we carry into the present day, the list goes on.
It’s an urgent priority that we do not fall victim to the information lag gap. It’s my mission to get this knowledge into the hands of as many as can use it. So everyone can be the best version of themselves with the most important people in their lives.
It’s 2019, if you want to smoke, you know the score and you can make that decision for yourself. That’s the brilliance of being an adult with free will. But the next time you think “this is just how relationships are, there’s nothing I can do about it”, remember all the people that thought for years and decades that “it can’t be the cigarette smoke”. Closing the information gap can transform our relationships and ourselves. Today, we can choose to catch up.
I started Kinship along with my wife Jazmín to share as much of our experience, research, and information as possible. To get started download your free starter guide at kinshipforcouples.com/subscribe.
Also, Jazmín is writing a great series of articles and I encourage you to follow this link to check it out as well.
Coming Next Week: How Messy Is Your Relationship Environment?