The 10 Strongest Predictors of a Bad Relationship
6. An unresponsive partner.
Posted January 10, 2023 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Relationship quality can affect your mental health, physical health, and how long you live.
- Aspects of your relationship and what you each bring to it can affect its quality.
- To improve your relationship, practice paying more attention to your partner, seeing them as if for the first time.
Few things affect your long-term happiness, like the quality of your romantic relationship. It can affect your mental health, physical health, and even how long you live. It’s fair to say that your relationship's quality can be a matter of life or death.
A review of 43 studies found that 10 variables consistently predict relationship quality.
The first set of predictors was about the relationship itself.
1. A partner who seems uncommitted: Knowing your partner is in it for the long haul provides a sense of safety and stability. Your relationship suffers when you worry they have one foot out the door.
2. Lack of appreciation for one’s partner: In healthy relationships, the partners feel lucky to be with each other. When appreciation is low, the relationship suffers.
3. Low sexual satisfaction: When your sex life suffers, your relationship quality is likely to suffer. Apparently, the quality of sex may be more important than the quantity, as the frequency of sex was less consistently linked to relationship quality.
4. A partner who seems dissatisfied: It’s a great feeling to know that your partner is happy in the relationship. When they seem unhappy, it can introduce all kinds of questions and uncertainty about the health and future of your connection.
5. High conflict: I don’t know anyone who enjoys getting in fights with their partner, and a lot of conflict can quickly sap the joy from a relationship.
6. An unresponsive partner: A responsive partner seems to get you and respects your thoughts and feelings even when they don’t agree with you. It feels bad when your partner doesn't seem to understand or respect you.
The remaining predictors of relationship quality were what each partner brought to the relationship.
7. Dissatisfaction with life: If you’re unhappy in general, you’ll tend to see your romantic relationship in a more negative light.
8. Depression: On a related note, people who are depressed tend to report a lower-quality relationship. Part of this association could be that bad relationships contribute to depression.
9. Negative affect: Other negative emotions, like a lot of anger or irritability, are linked to worse relationship quality. As with depression, a bad relationship, in turn, can contribute to negative emotions.
10. Attachment style: Both anxious and avoidant attachment styles are highly predictive of poor relationship quality. A person with an anxious attachment often worries that their partner will leave them; those with avoidant attachment are careful not to let their partners get too close.
It’s interesting to note that demographic variables like race, gender, and religious affiliation tended not to matter for relationship quality; the same was true for objective characteristics of the relationship, such as having children vs. being child-free, living together or apart, and dating or being married.
How to Improve Your Relationship
The findings from this review suggest several ways to improve the quality of a bad relationship:
- Cultivate an appreciation for your partner. Practice paying more attention to your partner, and see them as if for the first time. Look for opportunities to express gratitude for specific aspects of who they are or things they do (general signs of appreciation have less impact).
- Work on your bedroom technique. Do some research on how to satisfy your partner sexually. Be willing to tell your partner what you need sexually, too.
- Make the relationship better for your partner. Look for small ways to make their life easier, like doing a chore for them or offering a listening ear (with your phone out of sight). Knowing they’re happy will increase your own satisfaction with the relationship.
- Find joy in life. Look for ways to find more rewards each day, both from things that are fun and from activities that give you a sense of accomplishment. A little can go a long way.
- Treat your depression. Follow a self-guided book, use an evidence-based app, go to therapy, or talk with your doctor about medication (it may be a good idea to ask about possible sexual side effects). Your relationship will likely improve when you find ways to boost your mood.
- Go to therapy. Consider investing time and money in working with a professional, either alone or as a couple. Both approaches can lead to a happier relationship.
Ready to get started now? Try this simple exercise, adapted from Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:
The next time you sit with your partner, really take them in. Notice their hair, eyes, and how they move and speak. You don’t have to try to feel anything specific or profound. Just observe the person in front of you.
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Facebook image: Lordn/Shutterstock
Gillihan, S. J. (2022). Mindful cognitive behavioral therapy: A simple path to healing, hope, and peace. HarperOne.
Joel, S., Eastwick, P. W., Allison, C. J., Arriaga, X. B., Baker, Z. G., Bar-Kalifa, E., ... & Wolf, S. (2020). Machine learning uncovers the most robust self-report predictors of relationship quality across 43 longitudinal couples studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117, 19061-19071.