This Is What a Happy Relationship Looks Like, According to Science
The science of love is an intriguing thing. Sure, we know that love is born out of biology, but beyond the basics, what makes some romances fleeting while others last a lifetime? It turns out science might have the answer. We’ve delved into major relationship studies and called on experts to find out the proven habits that set strong relationships apart. Intrigued? Here's what happy couples do each week to go the distance.
Couples who do the dishes together stay together, according to a Pew Research Center report. Below faithfulness and sex, participants said sharing household chores is a crucial aspect of a successful marriage. While it might seem trivial, studies show that sharing chores does far more than even out the workload. In fact, one study found that when men chip in at home, couples have better and more frequent sex. Pass the dish cloth.
Try this: If that’s not enough to convince your S.O. to lend a hand with the laundry, psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Wendy Walsh recommends this tried-and-true method: "Words don’t work. Instead, reward positive behavior, and ignore negative behavior,” she says. “If you’re tired of picking up dirty clothing on the floor, don’t complain; just leave it there. When your partner puts it in the hamper, reward that positive behavior with a kiss,” she says. “The most effective way to change behavior is to show, don’t tell.”
Keep going back to the same Italian restaurant every Thursday night? Behavior experts say you’re going about it all wrong. While studies show that romance naturally declines over the years (sigh), simply spending time together isn’t enough to counter it. They key? Happy couples constantly change their routines. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system and mimic the feeling of early romantic love (cue butterflies).
“We thrive on novelty, so when you get into a stable relationship, it’s important to keep searching for excitement,” says Dr. Walsh. “Strong couples do this together and create an experience to look forward to.”
Try this: Looking to change up your date-night plans? Dr. Walsh recommends finding an activity that reminds you of the start of your relationship. “Go through the paper and find a museum or new event that draws on both your interests. Focus on the adventure, and talk about it in the days leading up to the date, rather than "Okay, it’s Friday. We should do something.”
Another key to a strong relationship is spending time without your partner. Or, at least that’s what a study by the University of Michigan suggests. Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor, has been following the lives of 373 married couples over the past 25 years, and found that one element defines unhappy relationships: a lack of personal space. Almost a third of participants said they wish they had more alone time, and women were found to crave space more than men.
“In my experience, I see many relationships where the partner becomes their primary source of happiness,” marriage and family therapist Marissa Nelson tells MyDomaine. “It’s important for each person to feel complete first. When you have your own interests and passions, it allows the couple to be continuously excited and intrigued by each other.”
Try this: Think about a hobby or interest you had before your relationship, and set aside some time to do it solo. Whether it’s reading your favorite novel from college or starting a herb garden, spending time in silence allows you to reflect and focus on who you are, separate from your partner.
When it comes to sex, there’s one question couples often shy away from asking: Am I having enough? A new study by the university of Toronto puts our intrigue to rest. According to experts, the ideal time between the sheets is once a week. “For the average person, having sex more frequently than once a week was not associated with greater happiness,” said researcher Amy Muise.
Dr. Walsh says the lesson is that intimacy is key. “Relationships ebb and flow, so sex isn’t the be all, end all,” she says. Close couples value intimacy, whether that’s having sex once a week, or just kissing and hugging. “Sex shouldn’t always be the end goal!”
Try this: Looking to cozy up with your significant other more often? Start with small steps, like hugging your partner for 20 seconds every day. “Research says that after 20 seconds, your body releases the feel-good hormone dopamine,” she explains.
We often associate conflict with an unhappy relationship, but research suggests that’s not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. One study discovered that people who wage small fights on a regular basis tend to avoid big arguments in the long run. That’s not all. Forty-four percent of married couples even said that fighting helps communication.
“Avoiding conflict is the worst thing you can do for your relationship,” says Dr. Walsh. “Relationships are a gym for our mind and in order to get a workout we need some resistance training. That’s where constructive conflict comes in.”
Walsh says the key to fighting fair is to reframe the way you think about resolving an argument. “From the get-go, remember that one person won’t win the fight,” she says. “The winner should be the relationship. Ask yourself, what would be the best outcome for us, instead of me?”
Try this: If your arguments often escalate into a heated blowout, try this trick to ease tension. “Start using affectionate words during conflict,” says Walsh. “If you continue to use terms of endearment, it’ll remind you that this person is someone you love”—and could prevent you from saying hurtful or un-constructive comments that you’ll regret later.
Will you use any of these tips? If you want more relationship advice, shop the books below for secrets of successful couples.