The science behind romance
What are the secrets to a happy relationship? One is to stop phubbing. You know, keep your eyes on your partner, not on your smartphone. While some of these secrets may seem obvious, too often we take our loved one for granted. Consider these tips a mini relationship refresher course.
Love isn’t all fairy tales and Taylor Swift songs. Researchers in clinical white lab coats have dissected just about every aspect of relationships, from communication to sex. This Valentine’s Day (and every other day of the year), use these science-backed secrets to a happy relationship to enhance your romance with that special someone.
When it comes to relationship satisfaction, shared laughter is best. In a 2015 study, couples were asked to reminisce about their first meeting while researchers recorded every chuckle, giggle, and belly laugh. Couples who laughed together—rather than separately or not at all—reported better relationship quality and closeness.
In general, smartphones are romance kryptonite. A US survey of nearly 500 adults illustrated the impact of what researchers call partner phubbing (phone snubbing). This can be as simple as glancing at your phone while chatting with your partner. Phubbing created conflict for 23 percent of couples in the study. Fortunately, the solution is simple: keep your phone out of sight at least some of the time.
When it comes to texting, keep messages short and sweet. Avoid apologizing, working out differences, or making decisions via text. To turn your smartphone habit into a positive part of your relationship, try an app such as Couple or Avocado, which allow couples to privately share photos and messages, build to-do lists, and even “thumb kiss” by placing their thumbs on the same spot on their respective screens.
Angry outbursts seem like the makings of a bad romance, so it’s no surprise that many couples try to avoid conflict. Research, however, shows that angry but honest conversations can be better for your relationship than striving to forgive and forget immediately.
“The presence versus absence of conflict does not make or break a relationship,” says Denise Marigold, PhD, a relationship researcher and assistant professor at Renison University College. “It’s whether people deal with those conflicts constructively or destructively that’s more important.”
Besides being honest, happy couples tend to argue in ways that diffuse tension. This means showing humour or affection if possible and conceding when your partner makes a good point. The opposite end of the argument spectrum includes criticizing, showing contempt, and rolling your eyes.
Good communication simply means being “open, honest, and willing to be vulnerable,” says Marigold. “Truly listen to the other person’s perspective, even when it is difficult for you to do so. Listen without thinking about what point you’re going to make next.”
This is the ratio of positive-to-negative interactions that makes for the most successful relationship. For every criticism or argument, aim for five positive interactions: a hug, a compliment, playful teasing, et cetera.
If something great happens—say, a job promotion—you want to share the news with someone. Couples can capitalize on these shared moments of everyday achievement. Research suggests that responding with enthusiasm to your partner’s good times is as important as—maybe even more important than—supporting him or her during tough times.
Let’s say your partner comes home and says, “I was voted to be chair of a committee at work!” Researchers suggest you can respond, “That’s great! How did it happen? What did your co-workers say? Let’s go out and celebrate!”
Opposites might actually attract—at least when it comes to birth order. Some psychologists believe that first-born and last-born children make the happiest couples. The idea is that firstborns tend to be organized leaders who like to nurture others, making them an ideal match for easygoing lastborns, who enjoy being taken care of.
A strong network of friends doesn’t just make you happier and help you live longer; it can also benefit your relationship. After conducting more than 400 interviews, researchers concluded that couples who befriend other couples experience a boost in relationship happiness.
More frequent sex has been linked to higher relationship quality. However, simply having more sex doesn’t necessarily make couples happier. The reason for having sex seems to be a key (are you doing it out of a sense of desire, or out of a sense of duty?).
Communication is the key when it comes to good quality intimacy. If work and family demands get in the way, schedule a time that works for both of you.
Natural libido aids abound. If you need a little help in the bedroom, ask your health care practitioner about these sexy supplements.
Bored by the same old dinner and Netflix routine every Friday night? Get out of the rut. One study of married couples found that boredom strongly predicted low marriage satisfaction nine years later.
New experiences activate the brain’s reward systems—not unlike the rush of new love. Make date night exciting by cooking together, attending an art show, or travelling somewhere new.
Besides good communication and satisfying sex, researchers have pinpointed lifestyle habits that affect couples’ contentment. The happiest pairs tend to
The main takeaway is that relationships take effort. As Marigold says, “Be kind to each other, even when you feel hurt or disappointed or angry. Act in a loving way even when you don’t feel loving.”