Can you see a good relationship? Of course, no one knows what really happens between a couple, but decades of scientific research on love, sex, and relationships have taught us that a series of behaviors can predict when a couple is on dry land or heading into rough waters. Good relationships do not happen overnight. They take commitment, commitment, forgiveness and, above all, effort. Read on for the latest in relationship science, fun quizzes, and helpful tips to help you build a stronger bond with your partner.
Love and romance
Falling in love is the easy part. The challenge for couples is how to rekindle the fires of romance from time to time and cultivate the mature, trusting love that is the hallmark of an enduring relationship.
What is your love style?
When you say “I love you”, what do you mean?
Terry Hatkoff, a sociologist at California State University, has created a love scale that identifies six different types of love found in our closest relationships.
- Romantic: based on passion and sexual attraction
- Best friends: love and deep affection
- Logical: practical feelings based on shared values, financial goals, religion, etc.
- Playful: feelings evoked by flirting or feeling challenged
- Possessive: jealousy and obsession
- Disinterested: nurturing, kindness and sacrifice
Researchers have discovered that the love we feel in our most committed relationships is usually a combination of two or three different forms of love. But often, two people in the same relationship can have very different versions of how they define love. Dr. Hatkoff gives the example of a man and a woman having dinner. The waiter flirts with the woman, but the husband doesn’t seem to notice and talks about changing the oil in his car. The wife is upset, her husband is not jealous. The husband feels that his extra work is not appreciated.
What does this have to do with love? Men and women define love differently. For him, love is practical and is best shown with supportive gestures like car maintenance. For her, love is possessive, and a jealous response from her husband makes her feel valued.
Romantic love has been called a “natural addiction” because it activates the brain’s reward center, especially the dopamine pathways associated with addiction to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. But those same pathways are also associated with novelty, energy, focus, learning, motivation, ecstasy, and desire. No wonder we feel so energized and motivated when we fall in love!
But we all know that romantic, passionate love fades a little over time, and (we hope) matures into a more satisfied form of committed love. Still, many couples long to rekindle the sparks of courtship early. But it is possible?
Relationship researcher Arthur Aron, a professor of psychology who runs the Interpersonal Relations Laboratory at New York State University at Stony Brook, has found a way. The secret? Do something new and different, and be sure to do it together. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that go on in early romantic love. Whether you’re taking a pottery class or taking a whitewater rafting trip, activating your dopamine systems while they’re together can help you regain the thrill you felt on your first date. In couples studies, Dr. Aron found that couples who regularly share new experiences report greater increases in marital happiness than those who simply share pleasant but familiar experiences.
Diagnose your passion level
Psychology teacher Elaine Hatfield has suggested that the love we feel at the beginning of a relationship is different from what we feel afterwards. At first, love is “passionate”, which means that we have feelings of intense longing for our partner. Long-term relationships develop a “love of company”, which can be described as deep affection and strong feelings of commitment and intimacy.
Where does your relationship land on the spectrum of love? The Passionate Love Scale, developed by Dr. Hatfield of the University of Hawaii and Susan Sprecher, a professor of psychology and sociology at Illinois State University, can help you measure the level of passion in your relationship. Once you see your position, you can start working to inject more passion into your association. Note that while the scale is widely used by relationship researchers studying love, the questionnaire is not the last word on the health of your relationship. Take it for fun and let the questions inspire you to talk to your partner about passion. After all, you never know where the conversation could lead.
For most couples, the more sex they have, the happier the relationship is.
How much sex are you having
Let’s start with the good news. Engaged couples actually have more sex than others. Do not you believe it? While it is true that single people can give you stories of crazy sex episodes, remember that single people also go through long periods of drought. A March 2017 report found that 15 percent of men and 27 percent of women reported that they had not had sex in the past year. And 9 percent of men and 18 percent of women say they haven’t had sex in five years. The main factors associated with a life without sex are advanced age and not being married. So whether you’ve had married or engaged sex once a week, once a month, or just six times a year, the fact is, there’s still someone out there who has less sex than you. And if you’re one of those people who does NOT have sex, this will cheer you up: Americans who don’t have sex are just as happy as their sexually active counterparts.
But who counts?
Although most people keep their sex lives private, we know quite a bit about people’s sexual habits. The data comes from a variety of sources, including the General Social Survey, which collects information on behavior in the United States, and the International Social Survey Program, a similar study that collects international data and additional studies of people studying sex. like the famous Kinsey Institute. A recent trend is that sexual frequency is decreasing among millennials, probably because they are less likely than previous generations to have stable partners.
Based on that research, here is some of what we know about sex:
- The average adult has sex 54 times a year.
- The average sexual encounter lasts about 30 minutes.
- About 5 percent of people have sex at least three times a week.
- People in their 20s have sex more than 80 times a year.
- People in their 40s have sex about 60 times a year.
- Sex drops 20 times a year at age 65.
- After age 25, sexual frequency decreases 3.2 percent annually.
- After controlling for age and time period, those born in the 1930s had sex more frequently; People born in the 1990s (millennials) had sex less often.
- About 20 percent of people, most of them widows, have been celibate for at least a year.
- The typical married person has sex an average of 51 times a year.
- “Very happy” couples have sex, on average, 74 times a year.
- Married people under the age of 30 have sex approximately 112 times a year; Single people under the age of 30 have sex approximately 69 times a year.
- Married people in their 40s have sex 69 times a year; single people in their 40s have sex 50 times a year.
- Active people have more sex.
- People who drink alcohol have 20 percent more sex than teetotalers.
- On average, additional education is associated with about a week of less sex each year.
Early and often
One of the best ways to make sure your sex life stays strong in a long relationship is to have a lot of sex early in the relationship. A University of Georgia study of more than 90,000 women in 19 countries in Asia, Africa, and America found that the longer a couple is married, the less frequently they have sex, but that the decline appears to be relative to the amount of sex they had. taking when they first joined. Here is a look at the frequency of married sex comparing the first year of marriage to the tenth year of marriage.
Why does sex decrease in marriage? It is a combination of factors: sometimes it is a health problem, the presence of children, boredom or unhappiness in the relationship. But an important factor is age. One study found that sexual frequency decreases 3.2 percent a year after age 25. The good news is that what married couples lack in quantity makes up for in quality. Data from the National Survey of Health and Social Life found that married couples have more satisfying sex than single people.
Marriage without sex
Why do some couples sizzle while others fail? Social scientists are studying sexless marriages for clues about what can go wrong in relationships.
It is estimated that about 15 percent of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the past six months to a year. Some sexless marriages started with very little sex. Others in sexless marriages say that childbirth or an affair led to a slowdown and eventually to interruption of sex. People in sexless marriages are generally less happy and more likely to have considered divorce than those who have regular sex with their spouse or engaged partner.
If you have a low marriage or no sexual relationship, the most important step is to see a doctor. Low sexual desire may be the result of medical problems (low testosterone, erectile dysfunction, menopause, or depression) or it may be a side effect of a medication or treatment. Some scientists speculate that the increasing use of antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil, which can depress sexual desire, may be contributing to an increase in sexless marriages.
While some couples in sexless marriages are happy, the reality is that the more sex a couple has, the happier they are together. It is not easy to rekindle a marriage that has gone without sex for years, but it can be accomplished. If you can’t live in a sexless marriage but want to stay married, see a doctor, a therapist, and start talking to your partner.
Here are some of the steps therapists recommend for having a sexless marriage in the room:
- Talk to each other about your wishes.
- Have fun together and share new experiences to remind yourself of how you fell in love.
- Hold hands. I touched. Hug.
- Having sex even if you don’t want to. Many couples find that if they force themselves to have sex, it soon becomes a job and they remember that they like sex. The body responds with an avalanche of brain chemicals and other changes that may help.
Remember that there is no set point for the correct amount of sex in a marriage. The correct amount of sex is the amount that makes both couples happy.
A recipe for a better sex life
If your sex life has decreased, it may take time and effort to get you back on track. The best solution is relatively simple, but very difficult for many couples: start talking about sex.
- Just do it: have sex, even if you’re not in the mood. Sex triggers hormonal and chemical responses in the body, and even if you’re not in the mood, it’s likely to get there quickly once it starts.
- Make time for sex: Busy couples often say they are too busy to have sex, but oddly enough, really busy people seem to find time to have sex. The fact is, sex is good for your relationship. Make it a priority.
- Talk: Ask your partner what he or she wants. Surprisingly, this appears to be the biggest challenge couples face when it comes to restarting their sex lives.
The first two suggestions are self explanatory, but let’s take some time to explore the third step: talking to your partner about sex. Dr. Hatfield of the University of Hawaii is one of the pioneers of relationship science. She developed the passionate love scale that we explored earlier in this guide. When Dr. Hatfield conducted a series of interviews with men and women about their sexual desires, she discovered that men and women have much more in common than they think, they just tend not to talk about sex with each other. Here is a simple exercise based on Dr. Hatfield’s research that could have a big impact on your sex life:
- Find two pieces of paper and two pens.
- Now sit down with your partner so that each of you can write down five things you want most during sex with your partner. The answers shouldn’t be detailed sexual acts (although that’s fine if it’s important to you). Ideally, your responses should focus on the behaviors you want: talkative, romantic, cute, experimental, or adventurous.
If you are like the couples in Dr. Hatfield’s research, you may find that you have much more in common in terms of sexual desires than you think. Here are the responses Dr. Hatfield’s couples gave.
|1. Be more seductive.||1. Talk more lovingly/complimentary.|
|2. Initiate sex more often.||2. Be more seductive.|
|3. Be more experimental.||3. Be more experimental.|
|4. Be wilder and sexier.||4. Give more instructions.|
|5. Give more instructions.||5. Be warmer and more involved.|
Let’s see what couples have in common. Both partners wanted seduction, instructions, and experimentation.
The main difference for men and women is where sexual desire begins. Men wanted their wives to initiate sex more frequently and become less inhibited in the bedroom. But for women, behavior outside the bedroom also mattered. They wanted their partner to be warmer, more useful in their lives, and they wanted love and compliments both inside and outside the room.
Men and women can train to protect their relationships and increase their feelings of commitment.
Can infidelity be predicted?
In any given year, about 10 percent of married people, 12 percent of men, and 7 percent of women, say they have had sex outside of their marriage. Relatively low annual cheating rates mask the much higher lifetime cheating rate. Among people over 60, about one in four men and one in seven women admit that they have ever cheated.
Various animal and human studies suggest that there may be a genetic component to infidelity. While science makes a compelling argument that there is some genetic component to cheating, we also know that genetics is not fate. And until there is a rapid gene test to determine your partner’s risk of infidelity, the debate on the genetics of infidelity is not particularly helpful to anyone.
For women, the main predictors of infidelity were relationship happiness (women who are not happy in their relationship are twice as likely to cheat) and lack of sexual synchronization with their partner (a situation that causes women are three times more likely to cheat as women who feel sexually compatible with their partners.)
Protect your relationship
1. Avoid the opportunity. In a survey, psychologists from the University of Vermont asked 349 men and women in committed relationships about sexual fantasies. 98 percent of men and 80 percent of women reported imagining a sexual encounter with someone other than their partner at least once in the previous two months. The longer the couples were together, the more likely it was that both couples reported such fantasies.
But there is a big difference between fantasizing about infidelity and complying. Researchers have discovered that the strongest risk factor for infidelity does not exist within marriage but outside: opportunity.
For years, men have generally had the most opportunities to cheat thanks to long office hours, business travel, and control over family finances. But today, both men and women spend hours in the office and travel on business. And even for women who stay home, cell phones, email, and instant messaging seem to allow them to establish more intimate relationships outside of their marriages. As a result, your best loyalty opportunity is to limit the opportunities that could allow you to go astray. Committed men and women avoid situations that could lead to bad decisions, such as hotel bars and nights with colleagues.
2. Plan ahead for temptation. Men and women can develop coping strategies to stay faithful to a partner.
A series of unusual studies led by John Lydon, a psychologist at McGill University in Montreal, observed how people in a committed relationship react to temptation. In one study, highly engaged married men and women were asked to rate the attractiveness of people of the opposite sex in a series of photos. Not surprisingly, they gave the highest ratings to people who would normally be seen as attractive.
Later, they were shown similar images and told that the person was interested in meeting them. In that situation, participants consistently gave those images lower scores than they had the first time.
Other McGill studies confirmed differences in how men and women react to such threats. In one, attractive actors or actresses were brought in to flirt with study participants in a waiting room. Later, participants were asked questions about their relationships, particularly how they would respond to a couple’s misbehavior, such as being late and forgetting to call.
Men who had just flirted were less forgiving of hypothetical misbehavior, suggesting that the attractive actress had momentarily reduced her engagement. But women who had been flirting were more likely to be forgiving and to make excuses for the man, suggesting that their previous flirting had triggered a protective response when discussing their relationship.
Because researchers ethically couldn’t lure a real woman to act like a temptation, they created a virtual reality game in which two of the four rooms featured subliminal images of an attractive woman. Most of the men who had practiced resistance to temptation stayed away from the rooms with attractive women; but among the men who had not practiced resistance, two out of three gravitated toward the room of temptation.
Of course, it’s a laboratory study, and it doesn’t really tell us what could happen in the real world with a real woman or man tempting you to stray from your relationship. But if you’re concerned about being vulnerable to temptation on a business trip, practice resistance by reminding yourself of the steps you’ll take to avoid temptation and protect your relationship.
3. Imagine your loved one. We all know that sometimes, the more you try to resist something, like ice cream or a cigarette, the more you crave it. Relationship researchers say that the same principle can influence a person who sees a man or a woman who is interested in them. The more you think about resisting the person, the more tempting it becomes. Rather than saying to yourself, “Be good. Resist,” the best strategy is to start thinking about the person you love, how much they mean to you, and what they add to your life. Focus on the loving thoughts and joy of your family. , not in the sexual desire of your spouse: the goal here is to reduce sexual desire, not wake it up.
4. Keep your relationship interesting. Scientists speculate that your level of commitment may depend on how much a partner improves your life and broadens your horizons, a concept that Dr. Aron, Stony Brook’s professor of psychology, calls “self-expansion.”
To measure this quality, couples are asked a series of questions: How much does your partner provide a source of exciting experiences? How much has your partner got to know you better? How much do you see your partner as a way to expand your own abilities?
The Stony Brook researchers conducted experiments using activities that stimulated self-expansion. Some couples were given mundane chores, while others participated in a silly exercise in which they were tied together and asked to crawl on mats, pushing a foam cylinder with their heads. The study was rigged, so the couples failed to meet the time limit on the first two attempts, but barely made it to the third, resulting in much celebration.
Couples were tested for relationship before and after the experiment. Those who had participated in the challenging activity recorded greater increases in love and relationship satisfaction than those who had not experienced victory together. Researchers theorize that couples exploring new places and trying new things will take advantage of feelings of self-expansion, raising their level of commitment.
Every couple has disagreements, but science shows that the way two people argue has a big effect on both their relationships and their health.
How to fight
Many people do their best to avoid conflict, but relationship researchers say that every conflict presents an opportunity to improve a relationship. The key is to learn to fight constructively in a way that makes you feel better about your partner.
Marriage researcher John Gottman has developed a full career from studying how couples interact. He learned that even in a laboratory, couples are willing to voice their disagreements even when scientists are watching and cameras are rolling. From that research, he developed a coding system for words and gestures that has proven to be highly predictive of the possibility of a couple’s success or the risk of divorce or breakup.
In a major study, Dr. Gottman and colleagues looked at newlywed couples in the middle of a discussion. He learned that the issue didn’t matter, nor the length of the fight. What was most predictive of the couple’s marital health? The researchers found that analyzing just the first three minutes of the couple’s discussion could predict their divorce risk in the next six years.
In many ways, this is great news for couples because it gives you a place to focus. The most important moments between you and your partner during a conflict are those first few minutes when the fight is just beginning. Concentrate on your behavior during that time, and it will probably change the dynamics of your relationship for the better.
Here are some general research tips on how to start a fight with the person you love:
Identify the complaint, not the criticism. If you’re upset about housework, don’t start the fight by criticizing your partner with, “You never help me.” Focus on the complaint and how it will improve it. “It is very difficult when I work late on Thursdays to go home to do the dishes and children without clothes. Do you think you could find a way to help more on those nights?
Avoid the “you” phrases. Phrases like “Always” and “Never” are almost always followed by criticism and blame.
Think of the pronouns. Sentences beginning with “I” or “We” help you identify problems and solutions, rather than blaming someone else.
Be aware of body language. Without rolling your eyes, which is a sign of contempt. Look at your partner when you speak. No crossed arms or crossed legs to show that you are open to their feelings and opinions. Sit or stand at the same level as your partner: a person should not look down or up during an argument.
Learn to scale down: When the discussion starts to get hot, do it yourself to calm things down. Here are some phrases that are always helpful in downscaling:
- “What if we …”
- “I know this is difficult …”
- “I heard what you’re saying …”
- “What you think?”
Dr. Gottman reminds us that fighting with your partner is not a bad thing. After all his years of studying conflict, Dr. Gottman has said that he firmly believes in the power of discussion to help couples improve their relationship. In fact, passing on our differences gives our relationship “true staying power,” he says. You just need to make sure you start well so that the discussion can be constructive rather than damaging.
What are couples fighting for?
A famous cardiovascular health study in Framingham, Massachusetts asked its 4,000 participants which issues were most likely to cause conflict in their relationship. The women said that problems related to children, housework, and money created most of the problems in their relationships. The men said that their discussions with their spouse generally focused on sex, money, and free time. Despite the fact that the lists were slightly different, the reality is that men and women really care about the same problems: money, how they spend their time outside of work (housework or leisure) and balancing the demands of life. family (children and sex).
Sometimes money problems turn into marriage problems.
Studies show that money is consistently the most common reason for conflict in a relationship. Couples with financial problems and debt create higher levels of stress and are less happy in their relationship.
Why does money cause conflict? The fights over money are ultimately not really about finances. It is about the shared values and goals of a couple. A person who spends too much on restaurants, trips and fun things often wants to live in the moment and look for new adventures and changes; A saver who hopes to buy a home one day may value stability, family, and community more. The money conflict can be a barometer for the health of your relationship and an indicator that the two of you are out of sync with some of your most fundamental values.
David Olson, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, studied 21,000 couples and identified five questions you can ask to find out if you are financially compatible with your partner.
- We agree on how to spend money.
- I don’t care how my partner handles money.
- I am satisfied with our savings decisions.
- Major debts are not a problem
- Making financial decisions is not difficult.
Dr. Olson found that the happiest couples agreed with at least four of the statements. He also found that couples who disagreed with three or more of the statements were more likely to score low on overall marital happiness. Debt tends to be the biggest culprit in marital conflict. It can be an overwhelming source of worry and stress. As a result, couples who can focus on money problems and reduce debt may discover that they have also solved most of their marriage problems.
Here are some parting tips for managing your money and your relationship:
Be honest about your spending: It’s surprisingly common for two people in a relationship to lie about how they spend their money, usually because they know it’s a problem for their partner. Investigators call it “financial infidelity” and, when discovered, represents a serious breach of trust in the relationship. Surveys suggest that secret spending occurs in one in three committed relationships. Shopping for clothes, spending money on a hobby, and gambling are the three most commonly cited types of secret spending that cause conflict in a relationship.
Maintain some financial independence: While two people in a relationship should be honest with each other about how they spend their money, it is a good idea for both parties to agree that each person has their own discretionary pot of money to spend on whatever they want. Whether it’s a regular manicure, shopping for clothes, a great bottle of wine, or a fancy new bike, the fact is that just because you have different priorities as a family doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally feed your personal indulgences. The key is to agree on the discretionary amount of money each has and then stay quiet when your partner buys the newest iPhone just for the sake of it.
Invest in the relationship. When you have money to spend, spend it on the relationship. Take a trip, go to dinner, see a show. Spending money on new and shared experiences is a good investment in your partnership.
One of the most uncomfortable findings in relationship science is the negative effect children can have on previously happy couples. Despite the popular notion that children bring couples together, several studies have shown that satisfaction and happiness in relationships generally subside with the arrival of the first baby.
A study from the University of Nebraska School of Nursing looked at marital happiness in 185 men and women. Scores decreased after pregnancy and remained lower as children reached 5 and 24 months. Other studies show that couples with two children score even lower than couples with one child.
While having a child clearly makes parents happy, financial and time constraints can add stress to a relationship. After the birth of a child, couples only have about a third of the time alone together as they did when they were childless, according to Ohio state researchers.
Here’s the good news: A minority of couples with children, about 20 percent, manage to stay happy in their relationships despite the children.
What is your secret? The top three predictors of a happy marriage between parents
- Sexual intimacy
So there you have it. The secret to surviving parenthood is to have a lot of sex, be faithful, and be generous to your partner. In this case, generosity is not financial: it is about sharing, caring and making kind gestures towards your partner every day. When you try to survive the chaos of raising children, it’s the little things, like bringing your partner coffee, offering to dry clean, or doing the dishes, that can make a difference in the health of your relationship.
Make it last
Here are some suggestions on how to strengthen your relationship based on the findings of various studies.
Are you generous with your partner? How often do you express affection? Or do they do little things for your partner like bring them coffee? Men and women who score highest on the generosity scale are much more likely to report “very happy” marriages, according to research from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
Use your relationship for personal growth
Finding a partner to make your life more interesting is an important factor in maintaining a long relationship.
Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, developed a series of questions for couples: How much has being with your partner been in learning new things? How much has your partner got to know you better?
“People have a fundamental motivation to improve their personality and increase their identity as people,” says Dr. Lewandowski. “If your partner is helping you to be a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”
How carefully couples make decisions can have a lasting effect on the quality of their romantic relationships. Couples who are decisive before marriage, intentionally defining their relationships, living together, and planning a wedding, seem to have better marriages than couples who simply let inertia lead them through major transitions.
While the finding may seem obvious, the reality is that many couples avoid real decision making. Many couples living together, for example, did not sit down and talk about living together. Often, a partner had started spending more time in each other’s house, or a lease expired, forcing the couple to formalize a living arrangement.
Showing intention in some way, from planning your first date, to living together, to the wedding, and more can help improve the quality of an overall marriage. For more information, read about the science behind “The Decisive Marriage.”
Cultivate friends and family
Sometimes couples become so focused on the relationship that they forget to invest in their relationships with friends and family. Researchers Naomi Gerstel of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Natalia Sarkisian of Boston College found that married couples have fewer ties to family members than single women. They are less likely to visit, call, or help family members, and less likely to socialize with neighbors and friends.
To strengthen a marriage, consider asking for less, suggests Dr. Coontz. That means leaning on other family members and friends to get emotional support from time to time. Support your partner’s external friendships and enjoy the break from the demands of marriage when you are not together.
See a Rom-Com
It sounds silly, but research suggests that watching a cheesy Hollywood relationship movie can help couples solve real-world problems. A study from the University of Rochester found that couples who saw and talked about subjects raised in movies like “Steel Magnolias” and “Love Story” were less likely to divorce or separate than couples in a control group. Surprisingly, the “Love Story” intervention was as effective in keeping couples together as two intensive forms of marriage therapy.
Obviously, talking about a movie isn’t going to solve significant problems in a marriage, but the findings point to the importance of communication in a marriage and finding opportunities to talk about their differences. “A movie is a non-threatening way to start the conversation,” said Ronald D. Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and lead author of the study.
The best movies to start constructive communication are those that show various ups and downs in a relationship. Additional films used in the studio include “Couples Retreat,” “Date Night,” “Love and Other Drugs,” and “She’s Having a Baby.” Avoid movies that romanticize relationships like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally”.
Although some of the recommended movies are fun and not necessarily realistic, the goal is simply “to start a dialogue,” said Dr. Rogge. “I think it is the depth of the discussions that follow each movie and how much effort and time and introspection couples put into those discussions that will predict how well they will continue,” said Dr. Rogge.