- Relationship science can help partners build healthier and stronger intimate connections.
- Common sense beliefs, such as the idea that sacrifice is always beneficial, aren't supported by research—and can backfire.
- Paradoxically, a total lack of conflict in a relationship can actually be a bad sign.
How do you make a relationship work for the long haul? Many of us rely on "common sense" beliefs to guide us along the way, but this often leads us astray. This is where turning to relationship science can help. Research has identified several key factors for long-term love and passion, many of which have to do with the relationship mindset we hold.
I recently interviewed Gary Lewandowski, author of the book, Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship…and How to See Past Them, for the Sex and Psychology Podcast. Here are four of the key pieces of science-backed advice he shared with me:
1. Don’t sacrifice too much.
We often hear about the importance of sacrifice in relationships—we’re told that we need to put our partner’s needs above our own in order for things to work. While there is some truth to this idea, it’s important to keep in mind that sacrificing too much can actually undermine the relationship.
When sacrifice is one-sided (one partner is always compromising, while the other is not) and/or when the sacrifices being made are very large (to the point where you’re giving up things that are extremely important to you and neglecting your own needs), sacrifice can take a toll.
Sacrifice tends to work best when it is mutual and minor.
2. Don’t make your love conditional.
We often think we know what’s best for our partner and that one of our jobs in a relationship is to help our partner become who we want them to be. That’s why it’s not uncommon for people to tell their partner things like, “if you love me, you’ll change.”
However, when we look at our partners as people in need of “fixing” and attach all kinds of terms and conditions to our love, we often end up hurting rather than helping the relationship. In part, this is because trying to force change on someone often produces the effect opposite of the one intended. Plus, people often use tactics to change their partners that aren’t all that effective and may be counterproductive (e.g., punishment, withholding sex, etc.).
3. Don’t lose yourself in the relationship.
The idea of “two becoming one” sounds very romantic, but it’s actually not all that healthy. Yes, being close to your partner is positive, but you can have too much of a good thing. It’s important not to lose your individuality. It's okay--and healthy--to have some time and space for yourself, to pursue your own hobbies and interests, to have some of your own friends, and to have some independence.
The loss of self in a relationship is actually a common reason why many people in perfectly happy relationships end up cheating—it’s not because the relationship itself is bad, but rather it’s a quest for self-discovery.
Also, if you’re always with your partner and do everything together, you never have the opportunity to miss them—and missing them can make your relationship stronger. This is why some studies have actually found that long-distance relationships often have stronger bonds compared to relationships in which the partners live closer.
4. Don’t avoid every conflict.
Many people assume that the less partners fight, the better. However, a little bit of fighting can actually be a good thing—and it’s certainly better than total conflict avoidance. People who believe conflict is always a bad sign are actually less happy in their relationships, in part, because by avoiding conflict, they never deal with their problems—and those problems just continue to grow in the background until they become intractable differences.
By dealing with little things as they come up and having some minor disagreements, you can prevent problems from ballooning into major fights.
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Lewandowski, G. (2021). Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship…and How to See Past Them. Little, Brown & Company.