Similar in vein to a fountain of youth, the notion of there being secrets of relationships for long-lasting happiness feels like not much more than folklore. After all, people are different, have different needs and preferences, and are interested in varying relationship structures. According to new research though, while there may not be a single secret, certain commonalities between successful, happy unions may well exist.
When researchers examined 43 relationship studies to analyze 11,196 romantic relationships, they hoped to draw conclusions about the secrets of relationships for long, happy unions. They ultimately found five commonalities among successful couples: perceived partner commitment, appreciation, sexual satisfaction, perceived partner satisfaction, and how well conflict is dealt with. Collect all five, and you’ll win the relationship jackpot, it seems.
Below, sex and relationship expert Tammy Nelson, PhD, delves deeper into each factor for long-term relationship success.
5 secrets of relationships for long-term happiness, according to scientific research:
1. Perceived partner commitment
“How we perceive our partner’s commitment to the relationship is more important than how we perceive their commitment to us,” Dr. Nelson says. “If we believe they’re committed to staying together no matter what—even when we’re a horrible partner—then we can relax and feel confident that our relationship will weather any [situation], including a pandemic.”
To that point, feeling as though your partner isn’t truly committed to the relationship may lead to a downward spiral of negative thoughts, such as stoking a fear of abandonment. And such thoughts, especially left unresolved, aren’t optimal for long-term relationship success.
According to the data, it’s important that appreciation within a relationship is both given and received. “Appreciation is a life skill that I write about in all of my books, talk about in all of my sessions, and practice in my own life,” says Dr. Nelson. “We always get more of what we appreciate. We get more time, more attention, more affection, and more good sex when we appreciate our partner for what they do and who they are.”
3. Sexual satisfaction
“As a sex therapist, I absolutely agree that sexual satisfaction is the glue that keeps a long-term relationship alive,” Dr. Nelson says. “Sex can bind a couple together when other life problems get in the way of their companionship and day-to-day life.”
If you feel your relationship could use some work in this area, communication is key, and seeing a sex therapist—which, yes, can be done virtually—can also help.
4. Perceived partner satisfaction
While it’s important to feel sexually satisfied, the research data notes that feeling confident you’re satisfying your partner is important, too. Having a satisfied partner can boost your own confidence, after all. To boost that confidence even further and know with more certainty that you are, in fact, actually satisfying our partner, communication is key. Yep, it’s not just important to have sex—it’s important to discuss it, too.
5. How well conflict is dealt with
Striving to be one of those couples who “never fights” definitely doesn’t have to be your relationship goal—and in fact, the research says it shouldn’t be. Not only is conflict okay, it’s unavoidable. “It’s true that all couples have conflict, and it is the resolution of conflict that matters most,” Dr. Nelson says. “If a couple can resolve their conflicts and can end their arguments well, they’re more likely to stay together and be happy.” No one is necessarily born knowing the best way to handle conflict, and that’s okay. Therapists can offer tools to help.
What’s encouraging about these factors of long-lasting relationships is that they’re all theoretically possible to work on and improve—not anything that is immovable. And that’s a relationship secret worth spreading.