The Science Behind Happy Relationships
Do you remember how your teacher always reminded you to believe in science?
Throughout history, science has been the foundation of what it means to be human. It’s why we’ve been able to move from being animals to the technological civilization we are today.
And it turns out, your teachers were right — and not just about science in the classroom, too.
Science also applies in real life, especially in what it means to be in a happy relationship.
No matter how great relationships may seem on the surface (a.k.a. on social media), most people don’t know what makes a good and healthy relationship.
Before we move on to the REAL science behind happy relationships, let me ask you this: Are you happy in your relationship? If yes, you’re part of the 64% of Americans who say the same.
If not, don’t fret too much. Every relationship faces turmoil — minor ones like forgetting to pick up a Starbucks for your special someone or major ones like uncovering personal baggage.
There’s no shame in admitting you need help making your relationship work. This expert advice I gathered on how to have a happy relationship may be just what you need.
The journey begins here if you’re interested in the science behind happy couples.
16 Scientifically-Proven Tips For Building Happy Relationships
The reality is that every relationship will come with its own unique set of issues.
Since there’s more to a happy relationship than just loving your significant other, let’s look at what you can do to improve your relationship based on science.
Prioritize Emotional responsiveness
Sue Johnson, a clinical psychologist in Ottawa and the author of several books, has dedicated 35 years of her life to lab work about the secret to loving relationships.
If there’s one thing she learned over the years, it’s this: emotional responsiveness is critical.
So the million-dollar question is: What is emotional responsiveness?
It refers to the ability to empathize with your partner and be responsive to their emotions and needs.
The Emotionally Focused Therapy pioneered by Johnson heavily emphasizes having conversations that express needs and avoid criticisms to bring them closer.
When your special someone faces problems, emotional responsiveness is not just about saying, “I’m there for you,” but rather, “I will hold your hand all the way through.”
It’s about constantly being tuned in to your lover’s emotions.
Focus on positivity
It seems like a cheesy tip — positivity makes relationships work. But science says it’s true.
Without positivity, emotional disengagement can set in, which leads to relationship dissatisfaction.
But how can you ensure your relationship is positive?
According to science, there should be five positive interactions for every negative interaction. This 1:5 number is often called the magic ratio by relationship therapists.
In comparison, couples who ended up getting divorced only had 0.8 positive interactions for every negative interaction.
The best thing about it is every action doesn’t have to be grand.
You don’t have to book a luxury trip to Europe or the Caribbean whenever you fight with your spouse. Instead, prioritize the little things.
Whether it’s how you greet your beloved in the morning or the simple act of calling each other pet names to light up a room, try your best to be positive.
Control your feelings & stress
When Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and Kinsey Institute senior fellow, put people into a brain scanner, she found something groundbreaking.
People who report high relationship satisfaction have this essential neuro-chemical component: controlling their feelings and stress and maintaining positive views about their partner.
This ultimately means one thing:
To keep your mouth shut instead of acting out.
If you keep getting mad, take a break.
Walk around your neighborhood, listen to calming music, and eat your favorite dessert.
Whatever you do, get out of the destructive path you’re heading towards.
On the other hand, keeping positive views about your partner means giving more credit to their good side or spending less time thinking about the negative aspects of your relationship. Fisher calls this having “positive illusions.”
Think about it: no one is perfect. Not you. Not your partner. If you consciously overlook the negative things, you can ultimately shift your focus on the things that matter.
Talk more with your partner
In a happy relationship, it’s not just about saying the three little words — “I love you.”
Instead, it’s about talking more with your partner to keep the passion alive.
But what’s the standard?
Most happy couples talk for 5 hours a week. A study of 2,000 UK happily wed adults also found that the happiest couples have six meaningful conversations, three long walks, and two “barnstorming rows” each month.
Embracing communication and quality time with your special someone can help strengthen your bond and make you feel closer.
Considering this, take the lead in asking your partner how they are, and then listen to their story. Ask your partner to go on walks in your village, or open a serious topic you’ve wanted to discuss.
Over time, this will help you get to know your significant other deeper.
Celebrate your partner’s good news
Did your partner get a promotion? Did they win an award? Did they pass an exam? Did your partner finally land a big account at work?
Whatever good news your partner brings home, celebrate the moment.
A study from The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that couples who celebrate their partner’s wins as if they were their own are more satisfied in their relationship.
Does this mean you should throw a party every time your partner gets a raise? Of course, not.
The point is, try to be proud of the good things your spouse does. This will make your partner feel special. You can say:
- I’m so proud of you
- Tell me all about it
- When you do good things, I feel happy
- I couldn’t be more pleased!
“I got good news” moments, big AND small, will be remembered and celebrated as a happy relationship milestone.
Learn how to defuse tension
If you’re the type who makes mountains out of molehills, that’s a problem.
This is a big reason why most couples don’t last. If a discussion gets heated every time, it leads to a hostile atmosphere that can destroy your relationship.
Easier said than done, right?
Dealing with tension and conflict in a relationship can be tricky. If this is something you’re struggling with, there are things you can do to move forward.
When dealing with conflict, reframe the situation in a positive light instead of focusing on the negatives.
Even if you don’t understand your partner, listen to them. And most importantly, avoid making assumptions about what your significant other is thinking.
If the tension gets too much, take a deep breath before you react. If you need to leave for a while, do it. Be wary of saying things like “that’s it!” or “I give up!”
You can also diffuse tension by using humor and acknowledging your partner’s points.
Experience things together
Whether it’s trying out a new sport, going to a place you’ve never been, watching a movie, cooking a meal together, or even laughing together about something.
There’s nothing like doing something you love as a couple to make you feel closer.
Shared experiences build trust, a powerful predictor of whether a relationship will last. It also helps you grow closer on a personal level.
This is why you feel warm and fuzzy whenever your partner begins a sentence with “Remember that one time…”
Take the lead and make time for shared experiences. Get creative. Ask your partner for ideas if you don’t know what to do.
Make time for intimacy
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to remind couples to spend time with each other. But from time to time, as a relationship changes, intimacy can come second (or third, or fourth…maybe even fifth)
In early relationships, intimacy was easy. You couldn’t help it. When you see your partner, you want to smother them with affection.
But as reality sets in and you become entangled with life, that affection becomes harder to give.
As unromantic as it sounds, schedules your sex, especially if both of you are busy. This way, it becomes a priority and gives you something to look forward to.
In the “Money, Sex, and Happiness: An Empirical Study,” which involved 16,000 adult Americans, one of its main conclusions is that sexual activity enters strongly positively into happiness equations.
Considering this, schedule sex at least once a week.
You can even try out new things in the bedroom. Millennials (25–34), Gen Y-ers (35–44), and men are typically more interested in learning new things about sex.
It doesn’t always have to be about sex.
After all, there are various types of intimacy. Whatever it is that you do, make a promise to each other to set aside time for it.
It might feel like a chore at first, but eventually, you’ll notice the impact.
Support each other’s career
This might sound like a no-brainer, but happy couples are partners in their relationships and careers.
Because you want the best for your partner.
If your spouse is a writer whose book is about to be published, they need all the emotional support they can get.
Happy couples want to be there for each other, and your partner’s career is part of that.
Part of supporting each other is making an effort towards earning enough money together. This may seem highly superficial, but it has heavy practical consequences.
Don’t believe me?
Household income and relationship happiness are directly correlated, with the happiest couples having a combined $200K yearly income.
If you’re constantly worrying about your finances, it will negatively affect how you feel about your partner.
But as you finally make more money together, unexpected expenses will no longer bring you anxiety which can dampen your relationship in the long run.
More than that, having more money also gives you the freedom and flexibility to take your significant other on dates, travel, or even spoil them.
Frequent romantic gestures
Happy couples make time for romance and don’t neglect their partner with affection.
While it would be completely unrealistic to go on dates in restaurants every single day or surprise your partner with a bouquet every time you go out of the house, making certain romantic gestures (that sometimes don’t even cost a thing!) will make your partner feel special.
For example, in an eHarmony study, 65% report kissing on the mouth for a second or two each day, and 68% of respondents say “I love you” daily.
Men are more likely to report romantic gestures every month.
Such as writing an affectionate note (67%) or holding hands on a walk (80%).
That doesn’t mean that women should sit back and wait for their partners to make romantic gestures.
So, if you haven’t made a romantic gesture for your partner in a while, try something new!
What matters is that you’re together and making each other feel loved.
Don’t fight over text
Technology is an essential tool that connects you to people you love. However, it can also be a source of conflict in your relationship.
It’s easy to start a fight over text when you should communicate face to face instead.
According to one study, couples who argue, apologize and make decisions over texts are less happy in their relationships.
While discussing topics like what to eat for dinner can be done over text, the same cannot be said for issues that are more serious or sensitive.
If you want to keep harmony in your relationship, don’t make it a habit to bicker on text. While this may seem harmless, it can lead to resentment and more disagreement in the long run.
If you must discuss something with your partner via text, communicate without being mean or hurtful. If you get defensive, stop texting before it gets too out of control.
Have friends who stayed married
The company you keep can affect you, whether you acknowledge it or not. A Brown University researchers found that people are 75% more likely to get divorced if their close relatives or friend have already done it.
When someone with one more degree of separation gets divorced, you’re 33% more likely to do it too.
With that in mind, surround yourself with happy couples, not those constantly arguing and killing their relationship.
Even if you and your partner are madly in love, surrounding yourself with couples who constantly bicker, cheat, or neglect each other will affect both of you.
By surrounding yourself with a network of supportive friends, you can do wonders for your relationship. Happy couples understand that they need each other to be happy and healthy. They also know that they need outside influence to keep the relationship from becoming stale.
Be best friends with your partner
Couples who feel best friends with their significant others are twice more likely to be happy and satisfied in their relationships.
But what exactly does being a best friend mean in this context?
Being best friends means seeing each other for who you are.
It means sharing everything — the good, bad, and ugly. It means you’re there for each other through thick and thin.
Being best friends with your spouse doesn’t mean you must be with each other 24/7 and agree on everything. In a long-lasting relationship, you will inevitably have different opinions, interests, and tastes.
A best friend means that your partner should be someone you can have fun with, talk to, and trust, even when you disagree on something.
It’s about sharing a solid and enduring bond characterized by trust and respect.
Have a lot of mutual friends
Chances are, you and your partner both have Facebook. If so, we want you to do an exercise.
Go to your partner’s account and see how many mutual friends you have. Do you have more than 20 friends in common? Maybe even more than a hundred?
This is a common occurrence in relationships. As you spend time together, you also become a part of each other’s social circles.
In a 2013 report by Facebook, couples that have tons of overlapped social networks were less likely to break up.
Of course, this doesn’t mean completely merging your friend group with your partner’s. It just means that it’s normal for your lives to be interconnected at some point.
Spend money in a similar way
Imagine that you want to purchase a home. But then, there’s a hiccup.
You want a one-story house with 3 rooms, but your partner wants a mega-mansion in an affluent part of the city.
See where am I going with this?
Decisions about how you spend your money should be discussed by you and your partner. One study by the University of Michigan found that when married and unmarried people select their “money opposite,” it can cause conflict.
If you genuinely want to be happy with your partner, try to spend money similarly, especially when it comes to saving and treating yourselves.
It’s also essential that you understand how you both handle your money.
Couples who know each other’s saving and spending priorities can keep money disagreements to a minimum.
Keep in mind that everyone has unique perspectives about money. This can be influenced by your upbringing or your current income.
Spending differences don’t mean you would be 100% incompatible.
But it’s necessary to understand and respect each other’s spending styles.
Don’t rush moving in together
Moving in together has become the norm for many new couples. However, it might not always be the best choice for every relationship. One study found that premarital cohabitation is linked to greater odds of divorce.
While living together can be fun and exciting, it’s not something you need to hasten. It may be better to wait until you’re ready before moving in together.
If you rush this process, living together can cause you to become more complacent. This causes the romance to fizzle out.
While the idea of spending time with your partner 24/7 may be amazing, it can also force both of you to make adjustments and compromise on things you’re not ready for yet.
If you’re having doubts about moving in together, it’s better to take your time. You can take it slowly and see how it feels to be together while maintaining your independence.
When you’ve only been dating someone for months, try to enjoy your time together rather than rushing toward sharing the same roof.
Sebastian Klein is the founder of RelationshipsAdvice.co. He loves writing insanely practical guides based on scientific studies to help couples and individuals create the relationship they want. After a tough breakup, he started studying relationship dynamics to help people get from the “What should I do?” to “How to do it.” If you want to get in touch with him, visit his blog.
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