You’re pretty sure you’ve finally found that right person for you. You know, the one who listens intently while you vent about your grueling day at work and is there to hold you tightly on the couch with your Netflix queue already lined up.
But how can you tell for certain that you’re in a healthy relationship? Luckily, science has some answers. Read up on these research-backed factors that strongly influence whether or not you and your partner are meant to go the distance. Because sometimes, relationship advice doesn’t do the trick.
1. You’re both positive.
Sure, this one might not come as a surprise, but studies show that a positive outlook and a few genuinely exchanged smiles a day can go a long way in keeping a relationship stable. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that when just one partner possesses a high level of positivity, there’s less conflict in the relationship.
“Positive emotions are fundamental to any relationship because they counteract the negative emotions that shut us down,” says Jane Greer, New York-based relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship. “This translates into feeling more secure with your partner and more trusting.”
And the benefits of seeing the cup half full don’t stop there.
Another study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that couples who celebrated their partners’ achievements — say, a job promotion or killing that 7-minute mile — as if they were their own, experienced greater satisfaction than those who reacted negatively or with indifference. In the study, the couples who had broken up rated their partners’ typical responses to good news as “particularly uninspiring.”
While this isn’t to say you should break out in the Carlton Dance next time your partner offers up some good news, it’s a sure sign that optimism can benefit you both.
2. You keep texting to a minimum.
Between emojis and GIFs, our feelings and emotions are pretty clearly captured sans alphabetical symbols these days. But tread lightly when communicating with your significant other via telecommunication, say researchers from Brigham Young University.
After surveying 276 men and women around age 22 and in committed relationships, they found that heavy texting was to blame for both genders feeling dissatisfied with their relationships.
“Texting is precarious for a lot of people in relationships because it’s hard to flesh out our genuine expressions,” says Dr. Greer. “When one person is less interactive, the expectation is not matched by the reality for the other, and this can lead to disappointment and a feeling of disconnection.”
Similarly, the study found that the men who texted more often reported lower relationship quality than those who didn’t text their partners as frequently, while the women who texted more often reported higher relationship quality. Researchers speculate that as men detach from the relationship, they replace face-to-face convo with increased texting. The ladies, on the other hand, take to their mobile devices to try and make things work.
Bottom line? Hold the phone — literally.
3. You limit social media use.
You love checking your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds — and, chances are, it’s probably also how you read your news. But over-scrolling on social media may be one of the most toxic things you can do for your relationship.
One study in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking found that people who use Facebook more than once a day (ahem, most of us) are more likely to report conflicts in the relationship that inevitably lead to negative outcomes like cheating, breaking up, or getting divorced.
“Romantic relationships can be challenging enough to navigate without these added technological complications,” says Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist. “Finding ways to simplify or minimize potential pitfalls, like limiting what each other shares about your relationship on social media, is a great rule of thumb to follow.”
But good news for your social media mojo if you and your man or lady have been together for over three years: These results only held for couples in the early years of the relationship, which may mean the threat of Facebook coming between you two reduces the longer you stay together.
4. You cuddle.
Most of us admit to loving the feeling of being physically close to another human — it’s a natural, biological response. But when consistent physical intimacy (not just sexual) is a staple of how you both behave in your relationship, it also signals your levels of happiness together.
A study published in The American Journal of Family Therapy surveyed 100 men and 195 women to examine their preferences and attitudes towards romantic physical affection—massaging, caressing, cuddling, holding hands, hugging — and found overwhelmingly that the amount they experienced in their relationship was significantly correlated to their levels of couple satisfaction.
“Cuddling and tenderness help maintain the physical connection and intimacy shared between couples—not just when you’re being sexual,” says Dr. Greer. “As a result, it can be easier to get turned on because there’s always an element of sexual energy being shared through physical touches, therefore leading to a happier relationship overall.”
So next time you’re in the mood to snuggle, remember that science is on your side.
5. You fight instead of holding back your feelings.
While you might get down and out about the latest tiff you had with your boo, one study reports that it may be the all-important glue that winds up keeping your relationship together.
Researchers from Florida State University found that expressing anger when disagreements arise may actually be necessary in resolving problems in the relationship. In fact, that whole saying “forgive and forget” could surprisingly lead to buried feelings of resentment that fester and almost always come up later in the courtship.
“If you learn to argue in a healthy way early on, then you’re more comfortable expressing your emotions to your partner and working through your different points of view,” says Dr. Greer. “This creates a good working framework for handling arguments in a positive way instead of them resurfacing constantly, causing more strain in the relationship.”
So don’t be afraid to put your feelings out there and fight (respectfully, of course) next time you feel passionately for or against something in your relationship.
6. You have regular sex.
If the honeymoon phase has come and gone and the two of you still maintain a consistently hot-and-heavy romp schedule, you’re on the road to relationship bliss. In fact, a study published in the journal Society for Personality and Social Psychology found that having sex at least once a week brings as much happiness to your relationship as making an extra $50,000.
For this study, researchers surveyed more than 30,000 Americans over four decades, and found that having sex just once a week was the frequency most linked to relationship happiness. Surprisingly, couples who had sex more or less frequently were not happier.
“Intimacy is just another type of communication, so if that communication falters, so will your sexual connection in response,” says Dr. Tessina. That being said, your sexual chemistry is not a race to the sack.
“If you’re mutually enjoying more sex, than it will make you both happier, but remember that it comes down to both people wanting to be intimate that often,” adds Dr. Greer.
7. You’re similar.
You know the old saying, “opposites attract”? Well, if you happen to have a lot in common with your partner, it may be a better recipe for attraction.
In fact, a study by researchers from Wellesley College and the University of Kansas found that we’re actually hard-wired to desire “like-minded others.” They were able to reach this conclusion by analyzing pairs or people — from romantic couples to friends and even mere acquaintances — interacting in public. The pairs were asked questions about attitude, values, and prejudice, among other things, and it was found that the longer-term relationship pairs had greater similarities than those who had recently become acquainted.
“If you’re more alike in terms of your personalities, you’re sharing similar styles of dealing with a variety of things in life — from interacting with friends to experiencing life changes,” says Dr. Greer. “So if you and your partner share similar values and interests, you’ll wind up with more cooperative spirits and having a greater respect for one another.”
8. Your spending habits differ.
You’re certainly not alone if you find that the majority of the arguments you have as a couple are sparked by personal (or combined) finances. In fact, a Money Magazine poll found that a whopping 70 percent of couples argue about finances the most — more than household chores, togetherness, sex, snoring, and so on.
But if the two of you have stark differences in the way in which you prefer to spend — AKA one of you is a spendthrift and the other is a tightwad (yes, that’s an actual term) — you just might be perfect for each other. The proof is in one study by the Universities of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Northwestern. Researchers surveyed over 1,000 married and unmarried couples, and found that most individuals tend to choose their spending opposite when it comes to selecting a lifelong partner.
So if that sounds like you and yours, you just may have the perfect yin-and-yang combo to make things work. “Just remember to prioritize the big-spending opportunities like buying a car, house, etc,” reminds Dr. Greer.
9. You laugh at the same jokes.
If you and your sweetie both know how to appreciate a raunchy comedy routine, love anything with Will Ferrell, or both equally detest either of those two scenarios, you’re a match made in heaven, says science.
A study published in the Western Journal of Communication found that 75 percent of happy couples laugh together at least once a day. Even more interesting, another study reported in the same journal found that 92 percent of married men and women credited humor as a factor that made a significant contribution to their married life.
“Laughing at and appreciating the same comedy is the emotional oil to grease the wheels of a relationship to keep it moving forward,” says Dr. Greer. “It gives each of you the resilience you need to laugh off the petty and irrelevant things that naturally build up in life and offers more chances to bond intimately on a regular basis.”
10. You both love to booze it up… or not at all.
We’ve all seen it at one point in our lives — the couple scenario where one person is totally sober and the other is a giant, falling-all-over-the-place mess. There’s a good reason why those unmatched levels of drunkenness or sobriety don’t wind up working out in the end.
In a study published in the Journal of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, scientists reviewed data collected from nearly 20,000 married couples, and found that the spouses who consumed relatively the same amount of alcohol were less likely to divorce than pairs where one person drank more heavily or significantly lighter than the other spouse.
“I’ve seen many couples split when one of the pair of drinkers got sober,” says Dr. Tessina. “Alcohol alters a heavy drinker’s experiences and perceptions, so couples who drink heavily together naturally have similar ways of living, as do couples who don’t drink much at all.”
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