Advice

8 Ways Science Can Improve Your Relationship

Pin it

Heart shaped chemical formulas, isolated on white background.

Sure, there was once a song about a man blinded by a woman’s science, but can it keep us in love? Of course! And what says romance like a  peer-reviewed study—or several. Sure, they’re not butterfly kisses and chilled bottles of rosé, but here are some empirically proven ways for making your relationship happier, healthier and longer-lasting.

Choose a Partner Your Friends Actually Like

Group of Friends Toasting at Party

“A 2013 study found that we feel happier when our friends show and express that they are happy for us,” says Melody Wilding, a licensed masters of social work and a therapist for female entrepreneurs. “Their support reinforces us feeling positively about something, such as a relationship. Where this fits in today is social proof and social media. When we change our Facebook relationship status, post pictures with our new beau, or messages of excitement about our new relationship, the more ‘likes’ we get, the happier we feel. This could possibly be reinforcing our positive feelings about the relationship and the person we’re dating. What does this mean? People have a huge emotional incentive to talk about their relationship all over social media, so we better be prepared for lots of couples photos.”

Limit Your Sacrifices When You Feel Stressed

Sick and tired of studying

A study conducted at the University of Arizona by Dr. Casey Totenhagen, who is currently at the University of Alabama, says that while making sacrifices in a romantic relationship is usually a good thing, doing so when you are feeling extra stressed-out may not be. 164 couples, married and unmarried, filled out daily online surveys, over seven days as part of the study. They recorded the daily small sacrifices they made for their partner and were asked to report on their stressors that day. Scientists found that people who made sacrifices for their partners generally reported feeling more committed in the wake of their kind actions. But when they made sacrifices on days when they had experienced a lot of stress, they did not. “It may be a good idea for people to just take a few minutes out of their day to reflect not just on their own day, but also their partner’s day as well,” says Dr. Totenhagen in light of her findings. “Also—think about the nice things that your partner might have done for you today and take a moment to acknowledge him or her for them.”

Embrace Good News with Attention

yay exclamation in wood type

“One of the best tips I’ve seen recently from science having to do with improving relationships is the work on Active Constructive Responding,” says John Schinnerer, Ph.D., a positive psychology coach and anger management specialist in California. “One of the foremost researchers in the area of love and marriage is Shelly Gable, an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA. Gable looks to see how you respond when your spouse tells you [for example] that he’s just been promoted. An enthusiastic reaction such as ‘Wow! That’s tremendous. That’s the best thing I’ve heard all week. I’m sure there are more great things to come for you. You’ve definitely earned it. Congratulations!’ is called the active-constructive response. Couples who describe themselves as having a spouse who is active and constructive in response to their good news are more committed to the relationship, more in love, and happier in their marriage.”

Cultivate Gratitude as a Habit

Female hands holding caffee

Has your partner recently rolled out of bed first to get the coffee percolating or planned a special night out for your birthday? Take an extra minute to really feel grateful. Focusing on gratitude to our romantic partners can act like a relationship booster shot, say the authors of a study on positive thinking and romantic partners led by author Dr. Sara Algoe at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The authors studied 65 couples and tracked the day-to-day fluctuations in relationship satisfaction. Everyday ups and downs in relationship quality were reliably marked by one person’s feelings of gratitude. This research thus suggests that small pings of gratitude serve a crucial relationship maintenance mechanism.

Share the Same Level of Closeness

Students at School

Though conventional wisdom says that closer couples are happier couples, the real measure of relationship satisfaction is closeness compatibility. David M. Frost, Ph.D., of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, recently led a study in which a sample of 732 men and women completed three yearly surveys online. Current and ideal closeness were assessed by choosing from six sets of overlapping circles. “Closeness in general does indicate better relationship quality, but what matters more than how close people actually feel in their relationships is how much the amount of closeness they feel aligns with their ideal level of closeness with a romantic partner,” explains Dr. Frost. “If their actual closeness is out of line with their ideal closeness, they are at heightened risk for breaking-up, relationship problems, and poor mental health.” What mattered was the discrepancy, not the actual amount of closeness. “Over the three years of our study,” Frost continues, “we saw that those people who are able to reduce their closeness discrepancies over time showed the most improvement in relationship quality and mental health.”

Write It Down

I LOVE YOU

Expressing yourself through writing is good for your love life—and not just when you’re a lovesick teen poet. Northwestern University research led by Eli Finkel, Ph.D., asked 120 couples to participate in a writing intervention in which they thought about their most recent disagreement with their partner from the perspective of a neutral third party. Half were assigned the writing intervention and the other not. Every four months for two years all spouses reported their relationship satisfaction, love, intimacy, trust, passion, and commitment. While both groups showed declines in marital quality over year one, for the spouses who completed the writing exercise three times during year two, the decline in marital satisfaction was entirely eliminated.

Play Kissy Face

Couple Kissing at Top of Mountain

A study by Oxford University researchers led by Rafael Wlodarski suggests kissing helps us size up potential partners and may be a way of getting an existing partner to stay. By setting up an online questionnaire in which 900 adults answered questions about the importance of kissing, scientists learned that kissing was rated by women as more important in long-term relationships, which suggests kissing plays a role in mediating affection and attachment among established couples. “We found that the amount of kissing in a relationship was directly related to relationship satisfaction,” says Dr. Wlodarski. “However, and most interestingly, the amount of sex in a relationship was not related to relationship satisfaction. There is something unique about the intimacy of kissing with long-term partners that is more closely related to how well the relationship is going than just sex.”

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Lovers foot poking out bed covers sleeping

Sleepless nights are never fun. Now, there is new research that shows they can also make your fights with your romantic partner worse. UC Berkeley psychologists Amie Gordon and Serena Chen collected data on the sleep habits of more than one hundred couples. 78 young adults in romantic relationships provided daily reports over a two-week period about their sleep quality and relationship stresses in one experiment. Participants reported more conflict with their partners on the days following a bad night’s sleep. So prioritize the shut-eye and keep your love life dreamy.

Laura Schaefer is the author of Why We Fall Out of Love and Notes to Self.

Images via Veer

Plus: