It seems like everyone has a theory about what it takes to live happily ever after, and no two people seem to agree. But science tells us what appears most likely to lead to relationship bliss. Here's how the research advises that we tackle three of the major challenges we face when trying to find, and keep, that special someone:
1. What to Look For In a Mate: Someone Agreeable, Conscientious, and Emotionally Stable
According to research on relationship satisfaction, people with spouses who are agreeable, conscientious, and emotionally stable report being significantly happier in their marriages. If your romantic partner is perennially grouchy, with a tendency to fly off the handle (to say nothing of being selfish and/or irresponsible), your chances of finding marital bliss together are simply not good. Seek someone generally pleasant, responsible, and even-tempered—and, in fairness to them, be willing to return the favor.
2. How to Know If He (or She) Loves You Back: It's The Little Things
Everyone who's ever been in a relationship has had thoughts like, "If you really loved me, you would....": If he loved me he would bring me flowers, or she would compliment me more often, or he would remember my birthday, or she would remember to take out the garbage. When it comes to love, we all know that actions speak louder than words, right?
Not necessarily. According to new research, romantic feelings like love, intimacy, and commitment reliably lead to some loving behaviors—small, spontaneous acts of kindness that occur without much forethought, like offering a backrub, making a nice dinner, or letting you have the last brownie in the pan. These "little things" are a much better indicator of the depth of a partner's love than whether he or she remembers your birthday or to take out the trash.
3. How to Fight Well: Treat Little Problems and Big Problems Differently
The best way to deal with conflict in a relationship is to first be aware of how serious or severe a problem is. Did your boyfriend drink too much at the party last night, or is he drinking too much every night? Did your wife spend too much of the family budget last month, or are her habits edging you closer and closer to bankruptcy? Did your partner invite their mother to dinner without discussing it with you first, or did they invite their mother to live with you without discussing it first? Little problems and big problems must inspire very different approaches if you want to have a happy, lasting relationship.
When it comes to relatively minor problems, direct fighting strategies—like placing blame on your partner for their actions or expressing your anger—predict a loss of relationship satisfaction over time. In the long run, flying off the handle at every perceived offense will take a toll on your happiness. You really are better off letting the small stuff go. On the other hand, in response to major problems, couples that actually battle it out do a better job of tackling, and eventually resolving those issues, than those who sweep big issues under the carpet.
So when you are deciding whether or not something is worth fighting over with your partner, ask yourself if, in the scheme of things, the problem is a 10 or a 2. If it's a 2, try letting it go; if it's a 10, let the battle begin. You'll both be happier.