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Staying Connected

Wisdom the albatross and her mate. By USFWS - Pacific Region - WisdomLove11.21.2015 Kiah Walker, Public Domain

Let’s face it, holidays are fun and they make connecting with a partner easier. The hard work has been done for you. If it’s Valentine’s Day all you need is a card, flowers, and maybe some chocolates and voilà—you’re connected! Right? Wrong. Over 50% of human relationships fail while 93% of albatross relationships succeed. What do albatrosses know that we don’t? They know that it takes constant effort to keep their relationship going strong. They join the ranks with cockatiels, tropical boubous, owl monkeys, and prairie voles in keeping the bonds of their relationship strong. Let’s take a look at how these other species manage to have their relationships stand the test of time.

A fun place to start is making sure you have lots of good touching happening. And this doesn’t just mean sex. Although cockatiels may have sex all year long, day to day cuddling, nuzzling, and running their beaks through each other’s feathers is just an ordinary day in the life of a cockatiel couple. When a couple is mismatched, or one partner stops being as affectionate, the other may start looking for love elsewhere. One of the main reasons cockatiel relationships fail (aside from failing to raise offspring successfully) is a lack of reciprocation in the amount of affection.

Photo Credit: Derek Keats 2007

While being playful and cuddly sounds warm and fuzzy (which it is) that can be hard if a pair is bickering all the time. That’s why one of the hallmarks of successful long-term relationships is good communication between partners. Tropical boubous have this whole talking and listening thing down. Many times communication breaks down between human couples because people are not listening. One reason for this is that we may be defensive, reactive, or trying to win by formulating our response before our partner has even finished talking. Because we “hear” our own words in our head before we speak them, we aren’t able to listen to what the other person is saying. You may be convinced that you can multitask in this way, but tropical boubou couples know better. They take turns with a precision that is impressive.

Let's face it, life can get pretty hectic. Between work and raising the kids who has time to connect? Many people solve this dilemma with “date night”, a ritualized way to spend time together and focus on your relationship. One way to overcome the "once a week syndrome" is to find other simple common activities you can do together as a couple. Perhaps it is cleaning the house (make it fun!), maybe it’s exercising together, or, like owl monkeys…maybe it's sharing a meal. Owl monkeys are pretty generous with their food and show their love for one another by giving food to each other. Food transfer, as it’s formally called, happens a lot in owl monkey pairs. What could this look like for us? Don’t worry, there is no need for you to recreate Disney’s iconic Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene to stay close to your partner. It may be enough to plan together what to eat, or cook the meal together, or even just go to the store together. Combining a few of these different simple activities that you and your partner enjoy can go a long way to not letting the frenzied pace of everyday life get in the way of your relationship.

Sometimes life does throw curve balls. Maybe you have a bad day at work or there is a friend or relative that is trying to interfere in your life or your relationship. One of the common key principles of successful long term relationships we see universally in other species is unequivocal support of each other. This means there is no throwing your partner under the bus, no allowing an outsider to interfere with the relationship, and comforting and supporting your partner when things go right and go wrong. Failing to do so, or worse being aggressive toward your partner, will doom your relationship—even if it takes years to fall apart. One of the most faithful, affectionate and supportive species out there is the tiny prairie vole. These little rodents are so in tune with their partners they can sense when they are distressed. When they become aware their partner is distraught they immediately comfort them with lots of touching and cuddling.

This may not be the complete recipe for success, but without these ingredients your relationship may just be less fulfilling and a heck of a lot shorter. To recap, in matters of the heart remember to:

1. Be affectionate: Find your match when it comes to affection, romance, and yes, sex. If things have been waning in that department take some inspiration from cockatiels and ruffle your partner’s feathers…in a good way!

2. Communicate: This is one aspect that really causes us some trouble despite our sophisticated language. A simple thing you can try is to listen completely to your partner before trying to formulate a response or interrupting them. You might be surprised by what you hear.

3. Spend time together: Date nights are great but it won’t be enough to keep things going. Research shows for humans that successful relationships are built on a minimum of 20 positive interactions for every one negative encounter. Read that again. You can generate many positive interactions by doing small things together that you enjoy. Cooperate and get the chores done, go for a walk, go grocery shopping together, plan a mean together, or cook a meal together. And then don’t forget…

4. Support each other: This doesn’t always have to be big. Give your partner a hug every day (see above), but give them an extra-long one if they’ve had a tough day. Listen to what happened to them (see above) and ask them what they need and side with them. Protect your relationship from outsiders and interference. And don’t forget, support can come from simply complimenting them on something they’ve been working on, showing interest in their goals, and cheering them on.

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