The Secret Ingredient in the Happiest Relationships
Do you ever look at a promising relationship and wonder what the partners are doing right? Why do some couples look so happy and yet grow apart over time? Why do some partners, who seem like polar opposites, seem to actually grow stronger together?
Relationship satisfaction is a crucial component of living a healthy and meaningful life. We thrive amongst others, and when we are feeling unhappy in our most intimate relationships, our physical and mental health is likely going to plummet.
Research has shown us the key factors behind a satisfying romantic partnership; some include the way in which couples handle their conflicts or the way in which they communicate with one another.
However, newer studies have shown that there is a single major predictor of happiness in a relationship, and that is the quality of the relationship partners build together over time.
The study suggests that the person we choose as our significant other is not as important as the relationship that we build. What matters more is how we relate to each other: the shared norms, the inside jokes, the shared experiences (both good and bad).
Of course, the individual features like a partner’s feelings about their relationship, pre-existing mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, attachment styles, past hurts, and childhood all play a role and can have a negative toll on the relationship. But the significance of these to the overall happiness is found to be less than that for the actual pattern of interaction amongst partners in the relationship.
So key questions to ask yourself in a romantic relationship:
- Is there a strong commitment to each other? “I know my partner has my back.”
- Is there a mutual satisfaction with your sex life?
- Is there a mutual feeling of overall satisfaction with the relationship, and is there a low level of escalation/conflict between partners?
- Is there an ongoing openness and mutual expression of hopes, fear, desires, and future outlook? “I am in this journey of life with my partner right there beside me.”
- Is there a mutual feeling of appreciation by one another?
If one or both partners in a romantic relationship have answered “no” to some or most of the above questions, don’t fret, but it can be helpful to use these as conversation starters to better understand each other’s needs.
When do either one of you feel shut out or distant? At what point do you get the message that you’re on your own? When do some of these triggers come up? If having these conversations is too challenging to do, talk to each other about seeking support from a professional therapist that could help you through this process.
Happy relationships don’t just exist and may not come that easily, but that is okay. Some couples even say that it’s hard work! Nonetheless, it is achievable, and it can be established.
Committed partners work together to build that mutually-shared meaning of satisfaction in a relationship by tapping into their unique strengths as a couple and their strong bond.
Both partners work tirelessly to consistently express that shared meaning by building a foundation filled with support, empathy, active listening, and understanding. Truly putting this to practice, though, is key to a healthy relationship.
Joel, S., Eastwick, P. W., Allison, C. J., Arriaga, X. B., Baker, Z. G., Bar-Kalifa, E., … Wolf, S. (2020). Machine learning uncovers the most robust self-report predictors of 31 relationship quality across 43 longitudinal couples studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.