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Relationships

One Way to Make Your Relationships More Satisfying

Feeling like our partner knows us is a key component of relationship success.

Key points

  • Successful long-term relationships are challenging, as divorce statistics reflect.
  • Knowing what is most likely to contribute to relationship happiness could help.
  • Recent research finds that feeling known in a relationship boosts happiness.
  • Deep conversations and asking a partner questions will foster feeling known, which may increase satisfaction.

Everyone wants a perfect relationship. Unfortunately, the statistics are at odds with this desire.

In the United States, 43 percent of first marriages end in divorce. The chances of getting divorced are even higher for second marriages (60 percent). The third time does not appear to be the charm either, with a 73 percent divorce rate for third marriages.1

With statistics this grim, what features could help relationships last and beat the odds?

Relationship Knowledge and Happiness

Social scientists wanted to understand how interpersonal knowledge in the relationship impacts how happy one is in their relationship.2 To do this, they ran a series of experiments, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, to examine how two types of relationship knowledge affect relationship satisfaction.

The first type of relationship knowledge is how well you know your partner (felt knowing). Felt knowing is the extent to which you believe you know your partner’s personality, preferences, and background. The second type of relationship knowledge is how well you feel your partner knows you (feeling known). Feeling known is the extent to which you believe your partner knows your personality, preferences, and background.

While both types of relationship knowledge seem important, and indeed they are, the researchers wanted to learn whether felt knowing or feeling known is more important for our relationship health and happiness. Is it better to know your partner, or to feel like they know you?

Feeling Known Increases Happiness in Relationships

In a wide variety of different experiments, feeling known proved to be the more important component of a successful, satisfying relationship. Feeling known boosts relationship satisfaction because we value feeling supported and understood by our romantic partners. Feeling that your lover knows objective facts about you, such as your dream vacation, and subjective perceptions, such as what causes you the most stress in life, both contribute to feeling known.

An interesting caveat to feeling known is that when both partners seek to feel known, it creates a mismatch. In one study, participants created a dating profile. Analyzing the descriptions used in the profiles found that people wanted others to know them—signaling a desire to be known. However, participants who evaluated the profiles were more interested in going on a date with someone who showed an interest in knowing them!

For relationships to flourish, both partners should feel like their significant other knows them well. Note that this is also true for other social partners, such as friendships or colleagues. For example, asking a colleague how his daughter’s birthday party was over the weekend shows your colleague that you listened to something you said, signals you know them, and is likely to improve the working relationship.

If you feel that your relationship could benefit from this, sit down with your partner and take turns asking questions. These questions can be serious/practical (e.g., how is work going these days?) or fun/impractical (e.g., would you rather be a dinosaur or a shark? Defend your answer). Deep conversations and asking questions will foster feeling known, which may increase happiness in the relationship.

References

https://www.forbes.com/advisor/legal/divorce/divorce-statistics/

Schroeder, J., & Fishbach, A. (2024). Feeling known predicts relationship satisfaction. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 111, 104559.

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