Romantic relationships are dynamic. They continuously change, reflecting circumstances, stresses, and the everyday ups and downs experienced by both partners. What happens to “me” and to “you” ultimately affects “us.” The healthiest relationships have partners who routinely (if subconsciously) check in with themselves, their partner, and their relationship to see how things are going and to make changes as necessary.

How can you respond to relationship changes? A great starting place is to evaluate your own contributions to your relationship. What are you doing that helps—or hurts—your relationship happiness? How are your actions and beliefs influencing the quality of your and your partner’s everyday interactions?

Scientific evidence supports the idea that each partner is responsible for the health of his or her relationship. To do your part, consider these simple, empirically-based changes as a guide toward a happier and healthier partnership:

  1. Get more sleep. Taking care of yourself is a win-win for you and your relationship, and sleep is at the top of the list. Not only can sleep deprivation affect your energy, mental alertness, and mood, but it reduces glucose levels, which adversely affects self-control (Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007). And self-control plays a big role in relationship success: Those with higher self-control are more able to respond in constructive ways to their partners (Finkel & Campbell, 2001), and the more self-control couples have, the higher their relationship quality tends to be (Vohs, Finkenauer, & Baumeister, 2011).
     
  2. Take action. Certain behaviors make a difference in relationship happiness. These maintenance behaviors often come naturally, but intentional efforts to engage in them could benefit relationships. Research (Stafford, 2010) underscores the power of these seven behaviors in particular in predicting relationship satisfaction, liking, love, and commitment:
    1. Positivity. Express happiness and pleasure when spending time together.
    2. Understanding. Listen, forgive, apologize, and refrain from judgment.
    3. Giving assurance. Talk about the future; remind your partner what he/she means to you.
    4. Self-disclosing. Share feelings and encourage your partner to do the same.
    5. Openness. Share what you need or want in the relationship.
    6. Sharing tasks. Equitably share responsibilities (e.g., family, household, relationship).
    7. Involve networks. Spend time with your partner’s friends and family.
       
  3. Express your gratitude. Feeling grateful is one thing, but telling your partner is another. Do you express your gratitude? It turns out that sharing your feelings of gratitude is linked to positive partner perceptions and a willingness to voice relationship concerns (Lambert & Fincham, 2011), which helps maintain healthy relationships.
     
  4. Avoid hunger. New plans for physical health and wellness often involve diet changes (eat more veggies, etc.), but do what you can to avoid hunger. New evidence suggests that restrictive dieting can have a negative effect on relationship quality. When you’re hungry, anger and aggression are more likely (Bushman, DeWall, Pond, & Hanus, 2014); in relationships, these “hangry” moments do little to promote relationship well-being.
     
  5. Focus on humility. Help your relationship by keeping a check on your ego. Not only are humble people evaluated more positively as potential relationship partners, but humility seems to be an important ingredient for relationship success (Van Tongeren, Davis, & Hook, 2004). It may improve relationships through its association with forgiveness, a powerful tool for healthy relationships.
     
  6. Spend quality time together. Much anecdotal evidence suggests that spending more time together increases relationship satisfaction, but only recently has research scrutinized whether time really does increase satisfaction, or whether perhaps relationship satisfaction increases time spent together. Contrary to widespread belief, long-distance relationships are no different in their relationship quality (Gulner & Swensen, 1995), despite the idea that (by definition) couples in long-distance relationships spend less time together. The results suggest we might attend more to the quality of the time spent with our partner, rather than the quantity.
     
  7. Be kind to yourself. To be the best partner you can be, start by being kind to yourself. Scientific evidence is accumulating in support of the idea that self-compassion is a wonderful foundation for a healthy partnership. Self-compassion is a habit of gentleness towards oneself during times of failure, inadequacy, and imperfection. Evidence shows that self-compassion predicts the types of behaviors that translate into healthier relationships, such as offering care and concern for a partner (Neff & Beretvas, 2013). In other words, working on ourselves can benefit our relationships.

Hopefully this empirically-based evidence can help benefit your relationship. Note that healthy relationships reflect an ongoing effort from both partners to address the needs of “me,” “you,” and “us,” and are difficult to achieve unilaterally. That said, an everyday effort by one partner changes the relationship for the other partner, potentially influencing the other’s thoughts and behaviors. In other words, your actions do not occur in isolation; they have an influence on both your partner and your shared relationship.

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References

Bushman, B. J., DeWall, C. N., Pond, R. S., & Hanus, M. D. (2014). Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples. PNAS.

Finkel, E. J., & Campbell, W. K. (2001). Self-control and accommodation in close relationships: an interdependence analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(2), 263-277.

Gailliot, M. T., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). The physiology of willpower: Linking blood glucose to self-control. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(4), 303-327.

Guldner, G. T., & Swensen, C. H. (1995). Time spent together and relationship quality: Long-distance relationships as a test case. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12(2), 313-320.

Lambert, N. M., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). Expressing gratitude to a partner leads to more relationship maintenance behavior. Emotion, 11(1), 52-60.

Neff, K. D., & Beretvas, S. N. (2013). The role of self-compassion in romantic relationships. Self and Identity, 12(1), 78-98.

Stafford, L. (2011). Measuring relationship maintenance behaviors: Critique and development of the revised relationship maintenance behavior scale. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28(2), 278-303.

Van Tongeren, D. R., Davis, D. E., & Hook, J. N. (2014). Social benefits of humility: Initiating and maintaining romantic relationships. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(4), 313-321.

Vohs, K. D., Finkenauer, C., & Baumeister, R. F. (2011). The sum of friends' and lovers' self-control scores predicts relationship quality. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(2), 138-145.

Photo credit: Michelle Gomes

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