The vast majority of Americans will marry in their lifetime. Sadly, approximately 43 percent of those marriages will end in divorce. The good news is that over the past 30 years, researchers have identified factors that make relationships last. They’ve also spotted common pitfalls to avoid. Here’s a sampling of their findings.
Don’t try to change your partner.
People’s personalities generally change little over a lifetime. Trying to change something basic about your partner’s personality is often an exercise in futility. However, changes in small habits or behaviors are possible with the proper reinforcement. Communicate honestly about what you would like your partner to do. Avoid defensiveness. Then generously reward them when they make the desired change. Praise is much more effective than punishment in getting your partner to change.
Don’t rely solely on your partner for emotional support.
One person cannot fully satisfy someone’s emotional needs. When fights arise, it’s beneficial for you and the relationship to have someone to turn to. Develop relationships with family, friends or a counselor to avoid putting too much of a burden on your partner.
In the heat of an argument, it’s tempting to prove that you’re right or to get back at your partner for an offense. Taking some time out from an argument, whether it’s 10 seconds, 10 minutes or an hour, can help you think about what response would be best for the well-being of your relationship. It’s possible to win an argument and lose a relationship. Couples who take a step back from their own emotions and compromise are happier and have longer relationships than couples who don’t.
Do celebrate your partner’s successes.
Helping each other through difficult times is an important part of a relationship, but how you react to your partner’s successes is even more important. Couples who actively celebrate each other’s successes are happier than couples who just support each other through the difficult times.
Do be positive.
Couples who view their partner and their relationship in a highly positive way, even if overstated, have the happiest, healthiest and longest lasting relationships.
Do stay in sync with your partner.
Couples have to coordinate a host of things including money, household chores, children and vacations. The ease with which couples coordinate tasks reduces stress and friction in relationships. To increase coordination, talk openly and honestly about how to best divide tasks and help each other get things done.
Do new things together.
It’s common for passion to decline over time in long-term relationships. Doing new things together helps you see your partner in a new light and learn more about yourself. Those discoveries often increase the passion and excitement in a relationship. So take that pottery class together. Go to your first rodeo. Even if you discover that the only thing you like about a new experience is the person you’re experiencing it with, that’s time well spent.
Abigail Mitchell is assistant professor of psychology.