TIME psychology

How to Have a Great Relationship: 5 Words You Need to Remember

I’ve posted a lot about the research behind what makes relationships work — and not work.

How can you remember what all these studies have to say?

Just keep the 5 R’s in mind:

  1. Right
  2. Real
  3. Rapport
  4. Relate
  5. Review

Let’s break them down.

Fight Right

You might think it would be great if you could have a relationship with zero arguing.

But marriages with no arguments are 35% more likely to divorce.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Married couples who report they never argue with each other are 35 percent more likely to divorce within four years than are couples who report regularly disagreeing. – Vaughn 2001

Things need to be worked out and you may need to compromise.

Being rigid and resistant to new ideas increases conflict by 38%.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

When asked to describe the state of their relationship, those with a high level of rigidity in habits and thinking—that is, a resistance to new things, new ideas, and changes of any sort—named 38 percent more problems in their relationship than those who were more flexible in their thinking. – Kurdek 1999

Relationships with major disappointments followed by forgiveness are just as stable as ones without major disappointments.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Studies find that those who have experienced a significant disappointment from their partner and have successfully granted their forgiveness to their partner are as likely to maintain a satisfying relationship as are those who had never experienced a similar disappointment in their relationship. – Alvaro 2001

You can’t not argue and you can’t fight to the death. You need to fight right.

If you stay compassionate and show you care — even in the midst of a screaming match — you have a better shot at happiness.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

People who maintain a compassionate spirit during disagreements with their partner, considering not just the virtue of their position but the virtue of their partner, have 34 percent fewer disagreements, and the disagreements last 59 percent less time. – Wu 2001

When couples experience conflict, they are 45 percent less likely to feel pessimistic about their relationship if they can recognize feelings of caring from their partner during the disagreement. – Ebesu Hubbard 2001

Keep It Real

Do you expect a fairy tale relationship? That’s a prescription for disappointment.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Elements of fairy tales such as Cinderella were present in 78 percent of people’s beliefs about romantic love. Those people were more likely to have experienced disillusionment, devastation, and angst in their relationships than were those who gave less credence to fairy tales. – Lockhart 2000

The modern day equivalent of fairy tales is TV.

And as you might expect, watching too much TV is correlated with unsatisfying relationships.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

People who watched an above average amount of television per day were 26 percent less likely to be satisfied with their relationship status than were people who watched a below average amount of television per day. – Hetsroni 2000

It’s all about the bar that’s set for you or the bar you set for yourself.

So, as you might imagine, perfectionism does not make for a happy love life either.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

People high in perfectionism, a hyperbelief in their own correctness and a desire to find a partner with similar traits, are 33 percent less likely to describe their relationship status as satisfying. – Flett, Hewitt, Shapiro, and Rayman 2002

Be realistic about what you can and should expect from a relationship. And realize that things change.

A third of the time what attracts you to someone isn’t important to you six months later.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Researchers found that the traits that first attracted people to their partner were no longer relevant to 34 percent of them when asked six months or more after they began dating. – Felmlee 2001

Have Rapport

Talking, sharing, being open — these are all highly praised, and for good reason.

Couples who communicate are 62% more likely to describe their relationship as happy.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

In studies of marriages of various lengths, couples with a high degree of intimacy between the husband and wife—that is, couples who shared their innermost thoughts—were 62 percent more likely to describe their marriage as happy. – Pallen 2001

Expecting your partner to be a mind reader will just make you miserable. Want something? Ask for it.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Researchers found that those who are more direct in seeking support from their partner are 61 percent more likely to feel they received the support they wanted than are those who avoid explaining their needs. – Fitness 2001

If you’re still shopping for a partner, look for someone with good social skills who has maintained friendships for a long time.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

People with strong social skills, including an ability to maintain long-term friendships, were 32 percent more likely to be satisfied with their relationship. – Flora and Segrin 1999

More laughing means less fighting.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

When both partners in a relationship thought the other had a good sense of humor, 67 percent less conflict was reported than in couples where neither thought the other had a good sense of humor. – De Koning and Weiss 2002

Want your marriage to last more than 30 years? Just “being married” isn’t enough: you also need to be good friends.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

In studies of people happily married more than three decades, the quality of friendship between the partners was the single most frequently cited factor in the relationships’ success. – Bachand and Caron 2001

Relate

Opposites do not attract. Couples that are similar do much better.

Pairs that lasted longer than five years usually had a number of interests in common.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

In comparing couples who remained together more than five years with couples who split up, researchers found that the couples who stayed together were 64 percent more likely to be able to identify multiple shared interests. – Bachand and Caron 2001

Having similar values offers a huge boost in the ability to communicate.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

The degree to which couples have similar values does not change over the course of their relationship. Those with similar values, however, are 22 percent more likely to rate their communication habits positively. – Acitelli, Kenny, and Weiner 2001

Believe it or not, even having similar fighting styles was a good thing.

It was related to double digit drops in conflict and a double digit increase in satisfaction.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

While people may employ many different conflict resolution strategies in a relationship, when both partners use the same strategy they experience 12 percent less conflict and are 31 percent more likely to report their relationship is satisfying. – Pape 2001

Review

Many people are probably reading this, identifying the good things they already do and feeling smug. Sorry, you can’t stop there.

Relationships are not a “check the box and you’re done” kind of thing. You need to keep at it, monitoring and improving.

Which feelings and improvements matter most? Recent ones.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Satisfaction in a relationship is eight times more reliant on recent feelings and the ability to perceive improvements than it is based on the history of the relationship. – Karney and Frye 2002

Plenty of research shows that conscientiousness is a great quality to have in a spouse or partner.

Having a partner who is consistently reliable often means a healthy relationship with less conflict.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

People who consider their partner conscientious, a person who consistently does what they say they are going to do, were 26 percent more likely to rate their relationship healthy and reported 41 percent less conflict in their relationship. Dependability was rated among the most desired qualities in a partner. – Watson, Hubbard, and Wiese 2000

One More Thing

Never forget that, in the end, all relationships are about feelings.

Especially when fighting, we get caught up in the facts, the details, the words… And what’s funny is little of that ends up mattering.

When surveyed about their arguments, people mentioned feelings and tone ten times as much as the topic of debate.

25% of people couldn’t even remember what the argument was about — but they all remembered how it made them feel.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Asked to describe three recent disagreements with their partner, people had ten times as much to say about their feelings and the tone of the disagreement as about the topic of the disagreement. Twenty-five percent of people forgot the topic of a disagreement but could describe their feelings on the situation. – Ludwig 2000

As Maya Angelou once said:

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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