Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Fun: Four factors that keep your relationship fun

For years, psychologists tried to understand why relationships fail. They targeted dysfunction, focusing on factors like negative emotions and bad communication. But it turns out that not failing is not the same as succeeding when it comes to relationships. Couples who experience a lot of negative interactions are more likely to divorce in the first few years of marriage, but couples who don't experience a lot of positive affect are likely to divorce farther down the road. So how can we make sure our relationships thrive? Today, I'm going to tell you about four factors that may help.

You're never too old to have fun
1. Laugh and play together. Play isn't just for kids. Playfully teasing your partner can bring you closer together (remember, the key is to tease "playfully"!). Couples who laugh more are more satisfied in their relationships. Humor and laughter also seem to have a buffering effect - using humor during conflict can help you resolve the issue. So pick a comedy the next time you're choosing a movie for date night, come up with playful nicknames, and the next time that your partner says something that bothers you, try responding with a joke instead of getting defensive.

Novel and Arousing
2. Try new things together. The key to trying new things is that the new thing should be something novel and exciting. The novelty helps you and your partner create new memories and feel like a team as you try something new. The excitement can make you feel like your relationship is more exciting, and may lead to a misattribution of arousal, where you attribute the arousal from the activity to physical attraction for your partner.  Researchers have found that trying new things with your partner can help prevent boredom (a relationship killer), make you feel closer to your partner, happier with your relationship, and more satisfied with life in general.  It doesn't have to be as extreme as white water rafting, it could be something as simple as trying a new type of food, or playing tourist in your own town. For more about the benefits of new activities, read my original post on the topic.

3. Cultivate gratitude. I think we'd all agree that it is important to do nice things for your partner on occasion. But it is also important to notice and acknowledge when your partner does nice things for you. A little "thanks" can go a long way. When people feel gratitude in response to their partners doing something nice, both partners end up feeling more connected with each other and more satisfied with the relationship. It's also important to be grateful for who your partner is as a person. When you find yourself irritated instead of happy, try playing a few mind games to reset your mood - imagine what your life would be like if you'd never met your partner, or imagine how you'd feel if something bad happened to them. A bit morbid, but it works. These little exercises may* do more than just change your mood in the moment - couples who experience more gratitude are less likely to break up! For more on this topic, read my original post here.

Celebrate triumphs
4. Celebrate triumphs. Supporting your partner through rough times is vital, but it is just as important to be supportive when things go right. Couples who celebrate achievements and triumphs are more satisfied with their relationships, experience fewer conflicts, have more fun together, and are happier in general. Researchers even found that people's supportive behaviors when their partners shared good news better predicted the quality of their relationships months later than did their supportive behaviors when their partners shared a problem. So the next time your partner gets a promotion, meets a new exercise goal, or just has a really great day, make sure to celebrate with them. Not sure what it means to be supportive when your partner shares good news? Check out my original post for more details on how to celebrate your partner's successes.

And since this is a Friday Fun, you can also watch this clip from Big Bang Theory for an entertaining primer on what not to do.

These are just four of the many factors we know contribute to relationship success - what other ones have worked for you?

Further Reading:

  • Algoe, S., Gable, S., & Masiel, N. (2010). It's the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships Personal Relationships, 17 (2), 217-233 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2010.01273.x
  • Aron, A., Norman, C., Aron, E., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. (2000). Couples' shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 (2), 273-284 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.78.2.273
  • Gable, S., Reis, H., Impett, E., & Asher, E. (2004). What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (2), 228-245 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.87.2.228
  • Keltner D, Young RC, Heerey EA, Oemig C, & Monarch ND (1998). Teasing in hierarchical and intimate relations. Journal of personality and social psychology, 75 (5), 1231-47 PMID: 9866185
  • Campbell, L., Martin, R., & Ward, J. (2008). An observational study of humor use while resolving conflict in dating couples Personal Relationships, 15 (1), 41-55 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2007.00183.x

*So far, this research has been primarily correlational, so we can't say for certain that gratitude causes people to stay together.