Will you and your partner adopt the kinds of habits that make for success? Here’s how to begin setting the stage for a long, healthy relationship.
- Practice mindfulness.
In a busy week, it’s easy to half-engage with your romantic partner as you push through to Friday, but try to resist the pull of your phone, computer, or the long to-do list in your head. Research consistently shows that relationships are more satisfying when individuals practice mindfulness (McGill, Adler-Baeder, & Rodriguez, 2016). Mindfulness is the art of giving active attention to the moment—not an easy task, but a useful one. You might imagine that individuals on the receiving end of mindfulness could feel deeply valued, a feeling that would foster intimacy, trust, and connection.
- Recommit, every day.
When people think of love, the emotional components of passion and intimacy are often the first to come to mind, but commitment is actually the Number One predictor of relationship satisfaction, especially in long-term relationships (Acker & Davis, 1992). Commitment is a cognitive choice, a decision that individuals make to be in a relationship. Couples who renew their commitments every day, in words and deed, are situating themselves nicely for a long-lasting partnership.
- Be playful.
Sure, adult life tends to emphasize productivity and seriousness, but sometimes it’s about playing. Playful people take time to prioritize enjoyment, pleasure, amusement and having fun, and such an orientation in romantic relationships is predictive of satisfaction (Proyer, 2014). This suggests the possibility that play could be an important dimension of a successful relationship.
- Put work into the relationship.
Back in the 1980s, relationship scholars identified relationship maintenance behaviors as critically important to the sustained health of a romantic partnership. Recent research supports the idea that individuals who actively work on their relationships help make those relationships happy and lasting (Ogolsky & Bowers, 2013). The specific kinds of behaviors that reliably predict relationship success include expressing positive emotions, being open, giving relational reassurances, using your social circle to support your relationship, and readily sharing the work and responsibilities that come with a long-term relationship.
- If it’s not important, let it go.
In a recent study, researchers asked a sample of divorcees why their marriages failed. Participants cited frequent arguing as a major contributor, second only to infidelity (Scott, Rhoades, Stanley, Allen, & Markman, 2013). They described how an argument might start around something minor and then escalate into a major fight. Importantly, these arguments were not productive, supportive, or calm; rather, people recalled significant negative emotions. Finding ways to reduce the frequency of conflict, by letting go of the little things, could add more happiness to a relationship. If a conflict does occur, how a couple manages it may be predictive of their relationship success.
- When there is conflict, talk it out.
Recent research suggests that couples benefit from being flexible in how they respond to conflicts (Overall & McNulty, 2017). When couples are navigating serious conflicts, are secure in their relationship, and have the ability to adapt their behaviors, being direct and oppositional can actually help more than other approaches; however, a more cooperative, affectionate approach may be the best strategy when someone tends to get defensive or when the conflict is minor. In other words, there’s no “one size fits all” strategy: Successful couples adapt their approach to a specific conflict as a function of its broader context.
- Show your love.
Routines inevitably become part of the daily lives of a couple. While much research suggests that trying something new and interesting together can be an important way for couples to keep the spark alive (Aron et al., 2000), maintaining the romantic side of a partnership can be done in other, simple ways too. Give honest compliments, for example. Research shows that compliments when they’re understood to be sincere and meaningful can have a surprisingly potent benefit to relationship satisfaction (Marigold, Holmes, & Ross, 2007). These findings suggest that it’s not just the big things that matter: showing love through words and small gestures may be important, too.