We know the basic building blocks of a healthy relationship. We know that we should trust each other, be kind to one another, and be there for support and encouragement whenever our partner needs us. But there’s a lot of stuff that happens in between those principles that make relationships really difficult to maintain. I mean, let’s face it. Relationships are far from easy, especially if you’re sharing a home and sharing a life.
We can thank modern science for all the extensive research that’s been done on happy couples, though, because it teaches us a lot about what keeps people in love — and what makes them fall out of love. For example, we’ve even recently learned that divvying up household chores in an equal, non-gendered way is one thing that keeps couples happy and more sexually active. Who would’ve thought?! Let’s see what else makes the list.
Here are 11 things proven to make relationships better.
1. Think positive thoughts
It sounds impossibly hokey and like something straight out of a pop psychology handbook, but staying positive is proven to make everything better in life — your career, your social life, and, yep, your relationship. Professor Barbara Fredrickson, a social psychologist from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, has been researching human emotions for the past 25 years. She and her team have found that positive thinking can even change the rhythmic beating of your heart. Whoa! They’re even looking into how it can positively affect your immune system.
According to Fredrickson, pumping yourself up with positive emotions helps you “connect with others and build our relationships.” So what are you waiting for? Tell yourself that everything is going to work out, and actually believe it. It’ll only do good for your relationship.
2. Argue in a healthy way
Studies show that couples with poor communication skills are some of the most unhappy people on the planet. No surprise there, though. Every single couple fights, so don’t feel bad if you fall into that category. It’s not about how often you argue, but how you do it that really affects your relationship. Keep your focus on the solution, rather than just airing out all the dirty laundry that has taken place since day one of your relationship.
Also, allow each other to actually speak their mind. Don’t just cut each other off and talk yourself in circles. What your partner has to say matters, even if it might be hard to hear at the time.
3. Don’t fight about money
This is a tough one, because money issues are the number one reason couples break up. There will always be some differences in the way you handle money, how much money you make, how much money you save, etc. However, try to solve the problems at hand instead of blow up in each others’ faces about it. Don’t fall into self righteousness, and try to see what money signifies for your S.O., rather than focusing on the money itself.
4. Say words of encouragement to each other
By evoking phrases like “Great job!” and “I’m so proud of you,” couples increase their happiness levels and report feeling less depressed. All it takes is saying three of those phrases once a day for one week before you feel the effects. The more you encourage one another and ask your partner to tell you about the triumphs in their lives, the more likely you’ll both feel comfortable and safe.
5. Have strong friendships outside of your relationship
Your whole life shouldn’t be only about each other. As soon as you start to rely on your partner to provide you with everything you want and need in life, you’re bound to crash and burn. Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell University, and Lars Backstrom, a senior engineer at Facebook, conducted a study showing that the weakest relationships are the ones where both parties share the same number of mutual friends.
In other words, the more friends you have on your own, independently in your social life, the happier you’re bound to be in your relationship. It’s called “dispersion,” and the higher “dispersion” you have (aka the more friends you two have who aren’t connected to each other), the longer you’ll last.
6. Spend six more hours together a week
Studies show that couples who clock in an extra six hours of together time every week, compared to the average relationship, are more likely to make it to the finish line. You might be thinking, Um, that’s, like, a whole night of sleep. Not so fast. You don’t have to pull an all-nighter to improve your relationship. It just takes small gestures every day to keep the romance going.
Eat breakfast together for 15 minutes instead of looking at your phone. Meet for lunch. Talk to each other after a long day instead of watching TV. Go to a concert together. You’d be surprised at how quickly those six hours add up.
7. Don’t rush into anything
At Emory University, researchers found that the longer a couple dates before getting hitched, the more likely they are to stay together forever. It pays to take your time, really get to know each other, and don’t put pressure on one another to commit to anything too soon. Along the way, remember to check in and see where your partner’s at. Are they ready to take the relationship to the next level? Or are they happy where they are? The more you invite their opinion, the easier it is to have healthy communication.
8. Talk to each other more often
It’s reported that the happiest married folks spend about five hours every week hanging out and just talking. Yep, that’s all! Just chatting. Babbling. Shooting the shit. It makes sense, I guess. If you’re not interested in what your partner has to say, chances are you’re probably not really as in love with them as you might think.
9. Have sex once a week (or more)
Couples who get down and dirty once a week are 44 percent more likely to have positive feelings about themselves, about their partner, and about the relationship in general. Start having sex every few days, and you’re 55 percent more likely to be happy. But at the end of the day, who cares what the exact percentages are? Go have some bedroom fun.
10. Laugh more in each other’s company
I’ve been in a relationship for two and a half years and I have to say the thing that keeps me happiest is how much my partner makes me laugh. Science is on my side. Research suggests that couples who engage in “shared laughter” are more satisfied in their relationship and they find it easier to remember all the good they’ve got between them. If you’re stuck in a bit of a rut, go see a comedy show or throw a party with your most hilarious friends. As soon as you get the laughter rolling you might feel closer than you did before.
11. Share new experiences together
Ah, here’s the fun part. Go try new things together! Travel somewhere new, try a dance class, jump out of a plane together, whatever! Experts call these experiences “self-expanding activities” (I know, these phrases are so lame), and they’re meant to yank you out of your boring, mundane routine so you can have some fun. Studies show that couples who grow together and mix things up every now and then are the ones who are stronger in the long run. See? Relationships can be fun, after all.