It’s the golden question.
If scientists knew the answer to this question, it would change the romantic landscape for good.
If scientists could figure out the answer, we’d have less divorce, fewer breakups, and more 50th wedding anniversaries.
There’s a lot on the line.
Nonprofits, research institutions, and government-funded programs have poured huge amounts of money into studies, hoping to answer the question once and for all:
What predicts whether a couple will stay happily together?
One woman thinks she might have an answer.
Gaze Into The Crystal Ball…
Imagine a day in the future where you could plug information about your relationship into a computer…
And it would tell you the likelihood that you’d still be happy together in 5 years’ time.
We’re nowhere near that!
Relationship scientists have uncovered hundreds of variables that they think impact relationship quality.
It’s too complicated. There are too many factors involved.
But the weather is complicated, and yet we still manage to have forecasts that are somewhat accurate.
Surely even a somewhat accurate “relationship forecast” would help!
Making better predictions involves gathering more data and harnessing the power of computersto make sense of it all.
That’s what Samantha Joel did.
The Biggest Study of Them All
Joel is an assistant professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada.
She noticed that there were tons of small studies on what makes relationships work, but no one had ever combined them and studied the dataset as a whole.
She and her colleagues gathered 43 relationship studies containing information on more than 11,000 couples.
They knew they couldn’t possibly crunch all that data and find patterns themselves.
So they used machine learning, similar to the process used to train artificial intelligence like ChatGPT.
Hold onto your seat, because this might surprise you…
What Relationship Happiness is NOT
Perhaps you’ve heard that the happiest couples are matched demographically.
Surely happy couples share the same religion, have a similar level of education, and come from similar backgrounds.
Or perhaps you’ve heard that couples who are married with children are happier that childless couples who are just living together.
Those ideas make intuitive sense to us, but it turns out…
Neither is true.
Whether a couple was similar, whether they were married or just dating, or whether they had kids or not didn’t make a measurable impact.
(The one relationship variable that did have an impact was how long they’d been together.)
This means that you can be extremely happy together even if you’re an unlikely couple or you choose not to get married/have children.
What Relationship Happiness IS
There was one overarching factor that predicted almost half of relationship quality.
Get this right, and you have sunny days ahead.
Drum roll, please!
The best predictor of relationship quality is…
What YOU think of the relationship.
Your perception creates reality.
It isn’t the objective facts of your relationship that matter as much as how you feel about the relationship. (Proving that no relationship is destined to fail!)
The five main factors that shape your perception of your relationship are:
- Whether you feel lucky to have your partner in your life
- Whether you think your partner is committed to you
- Whether you enjoy your intimate life
- How much you think you fight
- Whether you think your partner is happy in the relationship
What this study teaches us is that happiness really is within our control. We can cultivate appreciation. We can feel close. We can work on conflict.
Even though what our partner thinks about the relationship is out of our control, we can work on feeling more secure. The less we doubt our partner’s commitment to us, the happier we feel.
Obstacles in the Way of Happiness
Now, the way you perceive your relationship is by far the most important factor…
But the second most important factor, accounting for about a fifth of relationship quality, is individual differences.
You’ll struggle to feel happy in your relationship—no matter how objectively good it is—if…
- You aren’t satisfied with your life overall
- You often feel negative or irritable
- You feel hopeless or depressed
- You worry a lot about your relationships
- You avoid getting too close to people
If one or more of these traits describe you, don’t worry!
You may have extra challenges to overcome, but by far the most important element in relationship satisfaction is how you choose to see your relationship.
Appreciate your partner. Treat conflict as an opportunity to understand. Make time for physical touch. If you think your relationship is amazing and you’re so lucky, then you really are.