6 Things to Do to Improve Your Relationship

4 minute read
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

In the past I’ve covered the research regarding what you should look for in a marriage partner.

What do studies say about what you can do to improve your relationship?


Divorce may have less to do with an increase in conflict and more to do with a decrease in positive feelings. Boredom really can hurt a relationship:

Being bored with the marriage undermines closeness, which in turn reduces satisfaction, Orbuch said.

“It suggests that excitement in relationships facilitates or makes salient closeness, which in turn promotes satisfaction in the long term,” she said.

We spend a lot of time trying to reduce conflict but not enough time experiencing thrills. And the latter may be more important.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has demonstrated that how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight.

The research points again and again to how important thrills are:

  • What reignited passion in long term marriages? Doing exciting things together.
  • Think a pleasant evening is all it takes? Researchers did a 10 week study comparing couples that engaged in “pleasant” activities vs “exciting” activities. Pleasant lost.
  • Why would doing anything exciting have such a big effect on a relationship? Because we’re lousy about realizing where our feelings are coming from.Excitement from any source will be associated with the person you’re with, even if they’re not the cause of it.
  • So do something exciting. Go dancing together or anything else you can both participate in as a couple.

    Let Yourself Be A Little Deluded With Love

    Being a little deluded helps marriages:

    …people who were unrealistically idealistic about their partners when they got married were more satisfied with their marriage three years later than less idealistic people.

    And it’s not just true for marriages:

    …relationship illusions predicted greater satisfaction, love, and trust, and less conflict and ambivalence in both dating and marital relationships. A longitudinal follow-up of the dating sample revealed that relationships were more likely to persist the stronger individuals’ initial illusions.

    5 to 1

    Keep that ratio in mind. You need five good things for every bad thing in order to keep a happy relationship:

    A 2.9: 1 means you are headed for a divorce. You need a 5: 1 ratio to predict a strong and loving marriage— five positive statements for every critical statement you make of your spouse.

    And when you’re dealing with your mother-in-law the ratio is 1000 to 1. I’m not kidding.

    Be Conscientious

    Conscientiousness is the trait most associated with marital satisfaction:

    …our findings suggest that conscientiousness is the trait most broadly associated with marital satisfaction in this sample of long-wed couples.

    Actually, you can kill a lot of birds with this one stone because it’s also associated with longevity, income, job satisfaction and health.


    Gratitude can be a booster shot for a relationship:

    …gratitude had uniquely predictive power in relationship promotion, perhaps acting as a booster shot for the relationship.

    It can even create a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop:

    Thus, the authors’ findings add credence to their model, in that gratitude contributes to a reciprocal process of relationship maintenance, whereby each partner’s maintenance behaviors, perceptions of responsiveness, and feelings of gratitude feed back on and influence the other’s behaviors, perceptions, and feelings.


    Sounds silly but it’s true. Want a better relationship? Try.

    Sounds ridiculous but:

  • Improving any relationship is as easy as actively showing interest in the other person or sharing with them.
  • Pretending time with a romantic partner was a first date makes it more enjoyable for you and for your partner. Why? On first dates we make an effort to impress.
  • Worried that all this is fake and contrived? Relax. Putting your best face forward actually reveals your true self.
  • Reminisce and share laughter. Stare into each others eyes. Sound corny? It works.
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    Related posts:

    The Science Of “Happily Ever After”: 3 Things That Keep Love Alive

    What are the four things that kill relationships?

    What are the 5 things that make love last?

    This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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