Some relationships look so promising, yet don’t stand the test of time, whilst others seem hopelessly mismatched but grow stronger over time. What’s the secret? Research has tried to identify the individual characteristics that make for a successful relationship, including how couples deal with conflict or communicate. How these two factors play out are major predictors of relationship happiness, intimacy and connection.
It’s not about how well two people match up on a dating site or personality features, personal history, or interests. These do play a role in predicting long-term relationship success, but the study found they play a smaller role than expected.
The strongest predictor is the kind of relationship partners create together, over time. The quality of the relationship experienced transcends individual traits or characteristics in predicting the couple’s happiness over time. As we process our relationships, we need the time to allow us to understand situations and come to terms with various aspects of a relationship. There is no magic “time” pill available to fast forward healing or establish a deeper bond for instance. The longer we enjoy a functioning relationship the more chance we have of establishing quality within it. We become settled and feel safe, that doesn’t mean complacent, but if we keep the energy within the relationship it can become deeply fulfilling.
Studies from Canada, (PNAS, Western University), www.inverse.com/mind-body/dating-study-predicts-happy-relationships suggest that the person we choose is not nearly as important as the relationship we build. After the initial attraction that brings a couple together, it’s the overall dynamic and way the partners relate to each other over time, including the shared norms, in-jokes, and shared experiences, that bring a level of comfort, understanding and a deeper connection.
The study looked at individual characteristics that you might assume to be the most important predictors of a happy relationship, like the individual partner’s feelings about where they are in their life, their tendency toward anxiety, depression and their attachment styles or whether their parents had a solid marriage. Those factors can obviously have a negative impact on the relationship, but the research found that they were much less significant for happiness than the actual pattern of the ongoing relationship: interaction, feelings around that interaction and the pleasure and enjoyment of just being together. What the research can’t show, of course, is how such couples “grow” that kind of bond of connection, trust, and pleasure. Here, we look at what they can do to create a positive dynamic.
Key features include: –
- A mutual sense of strong commitment to each other;
- Responsiveness to each other’s needs;
- A mutual level of enjoyment of sex;
- A sense that their partner was happy with their relationship;
- An infrequent, lower level of conflict with each other.
Overall, the most encompassing is the commitment to ongoing open communication and exposure to each other – mutually revealing each other’s hopes, fears, desires, and sense of where they want to go as two separate individuals joined together through life. I am a big proponent for couples establishing “goals”- couples working towards the same goal, be it small or large, tend to develop a sense of teamwork, they strive together, survive failures and enjoy successes achieved along the way which has a bonding effect. In bereavement counselling the surviving partner of a happy union will often comment about “the little milestones” they achieved together over time which shows that the relationship had meaning.
Knowing the key to couples’ happiness and enjoyment with each other over the long term is one thing; That’s the science part. Really practising it. That’s the art of the relationship.