The Little Known Science Behind Highly Successful Couples

Photo by Namita Azad
Photo by Namita Azad
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The Challenge: We all want long-term love, but find it so hard to achieve.
The Science: Your success at long-term love may have to do with you & your partner’s romantic style.
The Solution: Understanding the science of romantic styles can help you find your happily ever after!

According to Dr. Adam Grant, most popular and youngest tenured professor at Wharton and author of the best-selling Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, you can divide people into 3 distinct categories: Givers, Matchers and Takers. And believe it or not, these categories can also predict the success of their relationships. While Grant’s book is written for a business audience, its theories provide extraordinary insight into what makes couples happy and health. The category you fall into may well determine the well-being and success of your relationship!

For example, has a partner ever made you feel like you were not good enough? Have you ever felt used by a romantic partner? Have you ever felt like you gave your all to the relationships only to end up tired and worn out? Then you may just fall into the “Giver” style of romantic partner.

Interestingly, while the Giver style may have its drawbacks, Givers are also the most attractive and in-demand partners. And they are more likely to have long-term relationships! A study examining the trait most highly valued in potential romantic partners showed that both men and women rate kindness as one of their most desired traits. Moreover, givers are also most likely to be affectionate, a quality which determines the long-term success of a relationship (as I describe here).

In order to understand your romantic style and how to best navigate your relationships with others, here’s a summary of the 3 styles of romantic partners.

3 Styles of Romantic Partners

Givers are those people whose primary motivation is to take care of others, to make sure others are well, and to contribute to others and society. In a relationship, these are people who are always thinking about gifts for their partner, who take their partners’ interests into consideration, and who are always thinking “What else can I do for you?” They’re pretty awesome. As Grant mentions in his book—everyone likes having givers around because they are always happy to contribute and thinking of others. They understand the relationship as an opportunity to give and take care.

Givers often end up blaming themselves when they are unhappy in a relationship. They are the ones who think they are not lovable or good enough because they take personal responsibility for making the relationship work (rather than blaming their partners). They can end up burned out and exhausted, from continuously giving at their own cost if they do not receive the support they need from the relationship.

Matchers adopt a transactional approach to a relationship. They tend to keep a balance sheet in a relationship. When matchers give they do so with an expectation of getting something in return. When they receive something, they feel like they have to give something back. Matchers are the ones who are keeping tabs, and view relationships as somewhat like a commercial transaction.They are the ones who are most likely to say something like: “I did this for you, but you didn’t do that for me” or “You paid for this, so I’ll pay for that.”

Takers are just that…takers. Selfish and self-centered, they usually treat people well only if and when those people can help them reach their goals. Interestingly, Grant points out that they often appear as the most charming and charismatic people on the surface. They know how to work the crowd and seduce, but under the surface they are actually motivated by self-interest. You can recognize a taker by how poorly they treat people that they believe are of no use to them. You know you’re in a relationship with a taker when you feel sucked dry for all you have (whether it’s money, affection, time etc.). Once the taker has everything they want from you, you may be relegated to the “unimportant” sphere of their life. Their primary focus is themselves.

So Who is Most Successful and Who is Least Successful?

Grant points out a fascinating fact about who, among these 3 styles, is happiest and most successful: It is givers. What about those who are least successful? Also givers! Why? Givers who learn to successfully navigate a world with matchers and takers make out great. Everyone loves givers, trusts them, and supports them when they are in need. So why are Givers also the least successful? Because some givers don’t know how to navigate that world and, as a consequence, end up taken advantage of. If you’re a giver, you’ve been there at least once both professionally and personally.

Imagine a relationship between a giver and a taker. These end up with the giver completely worn out, having perhaps spent their savings, time and energy on someone who keeps demanding more and never or scarcely provides for their partners’ needs (unless they do so temporarily because it behooves them at that moment).

So what makes a successful giver? Read Adam Grant’s book to get his complete lists of tips. One that stood out to me was the idea of being a “giver with awareness.” Awareness of what? Be aware that the world has givers, matchers and takers. Watch people’s words and actions, and you will know who is who. When you navigate romantic relationships, friendships or business partnerships, investigate which category your potential partner belongs to and don’t get blown away by first-impressions (as noted above, Takers are masters of first-impression charm). Then what? In a non-romantic situation, you can deal with Matchers and Takers by adopting a matcher-like attitude (I know, hard to do for a giver!). Start speaking in terms of “ok, we have an agreement, you do this and in exchange I will do this.”

What about in romantic relationships? I conferred with Adam Grant while writing this article and he shared the following tip about long-term love: “In the most successful relationships, both partners are givers. In other words, when a romantic relationship works, matchers and takers are focused on giving. Both partners might be giving in different ways, but they should be willing to support each other without expecting something in return. That said, when things get too far out of balance, I think we all become matchers.” Imagine a relationship where both partners are always caring for each other’s needs. Where when there is a fight, both are the first to say “I’m sorry, it was my fault.” In which both live their life with their partner’s best interest in mind. You better believe that matchers and takers are also looking out for givers so, if you’re a giver, be sure you seek one out for yourself too because you deserve it.

If you recognize yourself as a matcher or taker then—first of all—congratulations on being so honest with yourself. Of course, because of givers’ affectionate and service-oriented qualities, it is also in your best interest to have a partner who is a giver.

I’d like you to consider 2 things:

First, givers will never be fully happy unless you support them as they support you. They will eventually feel worn out and perhaps even leave. In a recent study by Amie Gordon at the University of California-Berkeley, those who experienced more gratitude in their relationship also felt closer to their partner, more satisfied with the relationship and tended to engage in more constructive and positive behaviors within the relationship. Ultimately, for a good relationship that benefits you, you will want your partner to be happy and will want to support them in return.

Second, as Grant’s book clearly outlines, givers are the ones who end up being most successful and happy, if they watch out not to be taken advantage of. A large amount of research now shows that a lifestyle comprised of kindness and service leads to greater fulfillment as well as health and happiness. If you want to be happy and successful, it therefore behooves you too to be or become a giver.

For more information on Adam Grant’s book, visit this page on Amazon. For more of my articles on how to make a relationship thrive, see here and here and here.

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Emma Seppälä

Emma Seppälä

EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, Ph.D. is the author of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success and Science Director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. She also teaches at Yale University and consults with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She founded Fulfillment Daily and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today.
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