- There are no guarantees a marriage will last, but tending to it along the way can help.
- All couples will face disagreements or conflict at some point; happy couples just know how to deal with it effectively.
- Relationship satisfaction shifts over time, but being prepared for a downfall can protect a relationship from falling apart.
No one enters a serious relationship waiting for it to fail; we all want to be half of the couple that beats the odds. While we know that around 45 percent of all marriages will end in divorce, we always want to believe that we can do better than the other 45 percent and actually keep the “happily ever after” going strong. While there are many incentives to remain in a relationship, which include enjoying a longer life (National Center on Mortality), staying in a dissatisfying and conflictual relationship can absolutely be detrimental to your health and well-being.
What We Know About Relationship Satisfaction
In a meta-analysis of studies on predictors of relationship satisfaction, it was found that we can kind of guess how happy we’ll be based on our age and the age of our relationship (Bühler et al., 2021). For instance, in early adulthood, when we find a life partner, our relationship satisfaction is strong. Things change, though, as the years tick past. By the time we go from 20 to 40, our relationship satisfaction craters and hits an all-time low. Forty is also the age where we might starkly realize that life is truly finite and dissatisfaction with past choices and regrets over lives not lived or partners not chosen may be bubbling up, as well. In addition, parenthood may also be partially responsible for this nadir point, as research continues to show that parents are less satisfied in life than people who are childfree.
Luckily, once we hit the low point in relationship satisfaction, we do begin to climb out of the hole. Satisfaction increases until around age 65, another “milestone birthday” when health issues, retirement, downsizing, and other compromises to well-being show up.
Many developmental transitions are inevitable but choosing to commit to ensuring a healthy relationship stays satisfying can offer some protection as well as help you manage the inevitable lows that occur in a relationship.
Here are 10 ways to help maintain a satisfying relationship:
- Be friends with your partner. You definitely don’t need to be “besties,” but you do need to consider your partner a good friend in addition to a lover.
- Develop a “couple” identity, but don’t let go of your own individual identity or eliminate engagement in hobbies or pastimes that your partner doesn’t choose to enjoy.
- Focus on shared values, not just shared interests when you commit to your partner. Shared values are a better bellwether for lasting relationships—not just liking the same music genres or sharing an interest in a particular hobby.
- Be willing to try out new things that your partner is passionate about. You can’t know something isn’t your taste until you’ve given it a try.
- Engage in open and honest conversations about sexual intimacy and practices with your partner. You can’t optimize your sexual activities unless you know what each of you wants and needs.
- Expect and accept that there will be disagreements and conflict in the relationship over time but use the discussions and differing points of view as tools to move towards a shared understanding and resolution. Don’t use conflict as a tool to gain power over your partner or as a zero-sum game.
- Celebrate every success your partner enjoys and offer support when they meet with failure. Don’t let yourself be threatened by their success and don’t blame or shame them when things go awry.
- Respect your partner’s moods and their perspectives; don’t try to “guilt” your partner for not being exactly who you want them to be all the time.
- Work together to get on the same page about your “feelings about your feelings.” While each of us has a way of approaching frustration, anger, disappointment, and so on, research shows that when you and your partner are in synch with how to best deal with feelings, you get along better. This may require some education on both sides—learning how to manage frustration or how to be okay with grief—but working towards a place of congruence can show one another your commitment to a long-term relationship.
- Accept that you and your partner will change over time—and that your relationship will need to shift and flex to accommodate those changes. People are not static, and relationships need to be dynamic, as well.
No one can guarantee that a relationship will last a lifetime, but there are ways you can up the odds. Relationships should be seen as entities worthy of tending—no relationship will thrive if the necessary support and care are not maintained.
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Bühler, J. L., Krauss, S., & Orth, U. (2021). Development of relationship satisfaction across the life span: A systematic review and meta-analysis.Psychological Bulletin, 147(10), 1012–1053. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000342
National Vital Statistics Report. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr68/nvsr68_09_tables-508.pdf#I18