Romantic relationships are important for our happiness and well-being. Yet with more than 40 percent of new marriages ending in divorce, it's clear that relationships aren't always easy.1 Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your romantic partnership in good working order.
Communication is a key piece of healthy relationships. Healthy couples make time to check in with one another on a regular basis. It's important to talk about more than just parenting and maintaining the household, however. Try to spend a few minutes each day discussing deeper or more personal subjects to stay connected to your partner over the long term.
That doesn't mean you should avoid bringing up difficult subjects. Keeping concerns or problems to yourself can breed resentment. When discussing tough topics, though, it pays to be kind. Researchers have found that communication style is more important than commitment levels, personality traits or stressful life events in predicting whether happily married couples will go on to divorce. In particular, negative communication patterns such as anger and contempt are linked to an increased likelihood of splitting up.2
Disagreements are part of any partnership, but some fighting styles are particularly damaging. Couples that use destructive behavior during arguments — such as yelling, resorting to personal criticisms or withdrawing from the discussion — are more likely to break up than are couples that fight constructively. Examples of constructive strategies for resolving disagreements include attempting to find out exactly what your partner is feeling, listening to his or her point of view and trying to make him or her laugh.3
Keeping it interesting
Between kids, careers and outside commitments, it can be difficult to stay connected to your partner. Yet there are good reasons to make the effort. In one study, for example, researchers found couples that reported boredom during their seventh year of marriage were significantly less satisfied with their relationships nine years later.4
To keep things interesting, some couples plan regular date nights. Even dates can get old, though, if you're always renting a movie or going to the same restaurant. Experts recommend breaking out of the routine and trying new things — whether that's going dancing, taking a class together or packing an afternoon picnic.
Intimacy is also a critical component of romantic relationships. Some busy couples find it helpful to schedule sex by putting it on the calendar. It may not be spontaneous to have it written in red ink, but setting aside time for an intimate encounter helps ensure that your physical and emotional needs are met.
When should couples seek help?
Every relationship has ups and downs, but some factors are more likely than others to create bumps in a relationship. Finances and parenting decisions often create recurring conflicts, for example. One sign of a problem is having repeated versions of the same fight over and over. In such cases, psychologists can help couples improve communication and find healthy ways to move beyond the conflict.
You don't have to wait until a relationship shows signs of trouble before working to strengthen your union. Marital education programs that teach skills such as good communication, effective listening and dealing with conflict have been shown to reduce the risk of divorce.
If you'd like professional help improving or strengthening your relationship, use the APA's Psychologist Locator to find a psychologist in your area.
1 Kreider, R. M. (2005). Number, timing, and duration of marriages and divorces: 2001. Current Population Reports. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
2 Lavner, J.A. & Bradbury, T.N. (2012). "Why do even satisfied newlyweds eventually go on to divorce?" Journal of Family Psychology, 26 (1): 1-10.
3 Birditt, K.S., Brown, E., Orbuch, T.L., and McIlvane, J.M. (2010). "Marital conflict behaviors and implications for divorce over 16 years." Journal of Marriage and Family, 72 (5): 1188-1204.
4 Tsapelas, I., Aron, A., and Orbuch, T. (2009). "Marital boredom now predicts less satisfaction 9 years later." Psychological Science, 20 (5): 543-545.