7 Ways to Tell if Your Relationship Is Just Right for You
What does your gut tell you?
Posted May 17, 2016
People will say that no relationship is perfect, but is your relationship perfect for you? And how can you tell?
Relationship researchers have spent years trying to determine what makes for a satisfying and rewarding long-term relationship. The stakes are high: Your commitment to a relationship can translate into years of giving, receiving, negotiating, and navigating life together with someone. Choosing this person could be the single best decision of your life—or your biggest mistake.
Consider the following as you ask yourself if your relationship is right for you.
- How much of a “catch” are you relative to your partner?
If you’re both about equal in mate value—i.e., overall desirability as relationship partners—then you’re in good shape. Discrepancies in mate value, however, can become a destructive force in relationships. The person with lower mate value tends to report relationship satisfaction, even when they encounter other attractive people; however, the partner with higher mate value is often less satisfied in the presence of attractive alternatives (Conroy-Beam, Goetz, & Buss, 2016).
- Do you share similar health habits?
Forget the old adage “opposites attract,” because a growing body of research suggests it's similarity that attracts and that this similarity goes on to predict relationship satisfaction. The characteristics that matter are more than educational background, religion, or physical attractiveness. It turns out that differences in exercise habits are a surprisingly strong predictor of relationship dissatisfaction (George et al., 2015). Perhaps shared exercise interest reflects other important similarities or corresponds with how people like to spend their time. In any case, shared interest (or disinterest) in exercise predicts relationship satisfaction.
- How satisfied are you with your sex life?
It’s not about frequency of sex, it’s about satisfaction (Schoenfeld, Loving, Pope, Huston, & Stulhofer, 2016). Married couples are happier with their marriages when they have a satisfying sexual relationship, but they also need warm interpersonal behaviors outside of the bedroom. In other words, both the nonsexual and sexual components of a romantic relationship appear to contribute to a satisfying relationship.
- Do you find yourself thinking about people besides your partner?
If you’re paying attention to cute strangers or you keep catching yourself noticing other men or women, you might be less committed to your current partner than you think. Research shows that attention to alternatives, even implicitly, predicts relationship dissolution (Maner, Gailliot, & Miller, 2009).
- Are your friends supportive?
We like to think our relationship is just between "us," but friends and our broader social networks may play a more influential role than we think. Meta-analytic research has shown that a lower level of social-network support is a key predictor of pre-marital relationship dissolution (Le, Dove, Agnew, Korn, & Mutso, 2010). A quick assessment of what your friends and family think of your partner might be helpful in evaluating whether your relationship may have long-term potential.
- Are you both into self-improvement (or not)?
Desire for growth and self-improvement is an understudied area of psychology, especially its role in romantic relationships. Emerging evidence supports the idea that a shared motivation to improve can be predictive of marital satisfaction (George et al., 2015). When partners differ on this dimension of self-growth, they tend to be less satisfied with their relationship.
- What does your gut tell you?
Sometimes the best judge of whether a relationship is the right one for you is you. Newlyweds implicitly, or unconsciously, know if their marriage will end up being a satisfying one (McNulty, Olson, Meltzer, & Shaffer, 2013). However, this underlying knowledge doesn’t always correspond with conscious attitudes towards a relationship. Explicit measures of relationship attitudes, such as in surveys, are not useful predictors of future relationship satisfaction. This is a strange paradox: We both know and don't know whether our relationship will be satisfying. If you could somehow tap into your implicit judgments, they could tell you a lot. The more positive implicit judgments are, the better they predict later marital satisfaction.
Scientists can’t definitively predict the future of any one given relationship, but research based on group data reveals trends that can discern between relationships that will last and those that more likely to fall apart. Still, judging whether a good relationship is the best possible relationship isn't an easy task. (You might want to look for these additional signs of a thriving relationship.)
- Conroy-Beam, D., Goetz, C. D., & Buss, D. M. (2016). What predicts romantic relationship satisfaction and mate retention intensity: mate preference fulfillment or mate value discrepancies?. Evolution and Human Behavior. Advanced online publication.
- George, D., Lou, S., Webb, J., Pugh, J., Martinez, A., & Foulston, J. (2015). Couple similarity on stimulus characteristics and marital satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 126-131.
- Le, B., Dove, N. L., Agnew, C. R., Korn, M. S., & Mutso, A. A. (2010). Predicting nonmarital romantic relationship dissolution: A meta‐analytic synthesis. Personal Relationships, 17, 377-390.
- Maner, J. K., Gailliot, M. T., & Miller, S. L. (2009). The implicit cognition of relationship maintenance: Inattention to attractive alternatives. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 174-179.
- McNulty, J. K., Olson, M. A., Meltzer, A. L., & Shaffer, M. J. (2013). Though they may be unaware, newlyweds implicitly know whether their marriage will be satisfying. Science, 342, 1119-1120.
- Schoenfeld, E. A., Loving, T. J., Pope, M. T., Huston, T. L., & Štulhofer, A. (2016). Does sex really matter? Examining the connections between spouses' nonsexual behaviors, sexual frequency, sexual satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1-13.