What's the secret to having a successful relationship? A 2013 study conducted by Robert Epstein of the University of the South Pacific Fiji found it all begins with you. Epstein created a model defining a set of seven basic skills you should already have as an individual in order to have a strong, happy, and fulfilling relationship. In a 2016 replication of the study, Epstein and colleagues found that out of the seven key factors that make a good relationship, two matter the most. Chances are you already know what they are. The seven basic skills are ones you should be pretty familiar with: Communication, Conflict resolution, Knowledge of Partner, Life Skills, Self-management, Sex and Romance, and Stress Management.
“From my experience in working with clients over the years, there is a specific basic skill that I have repeatedly found to be the most important one to master," Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist tells Bustle. "It actually impacts the quality of the other basic skills necessary for successful relationships.”
So, which is it? The study asked over 2,000 adults to complete a questionnaire assessing their strength in each skill and then asked them to self-rate their satisfaction with their partner. It was found those who scored high in “Communication” and “Knowledge of Partner” were the most satisfied with their partner and relationship.
But their research into the topic didn’t stop there. In 2016, Epstein and colleagues expanded their study globally, taking responses from over 25,000 adults from over 56 countries. Similar to the previous findings, Communication was found to be an important predictor of relationship success and Knowing Your Partner was almost just as equally important. "With good communication skills, partners are better able to express their feelings, thoughts, and needs in more productive and positive ways," Thomas says. "By having mastered good communication skills, the other basic skills often are improved as a result.
So here are the seven basic skills you need in order to have a successful relationship. If you find yourself needing help in any areas, here's some expert advice on how to strengthen those skills.
"I often ask feedback from my partner."
"Without a doubt, communication is the most important skill to have in any relationship," Dr. Michele Kerulis, relationships and dating expert and professor at Counseling@Northwestern tells Bustle. "Communication allows us to voice our basic needs to others and also provides opportunities to approach topics like sex and romance, stress management, and conflict resolution."
To communicate with your partner effectively, try avoiding phrases like You always..." or You never... "Accusatory and hurtful statements do not lead to solutions," Kerulis says.
Instead those tend to imply blame, which can result in the other person being on the defense when they enter the conversation. So be mindful to use "I" statements like I feel disrespected when... Those will better allow you to express your feelings without blaming the other person.
"I'm always ready to forgive when my partner apologizes."
Unfortunately, not many relationships can go without conflict. So knowing how to resolve conflicts without anyone getting hurt is a super important relationship skill to master.
Resolving means mastering another set of core skills: accountability, participation, and empathy, says Erika Boissiere, licensed marriage and family therapist and Founder of The Relationship Institute of San Francisco. "If at the end of the fight there are clear line items that your partner is asking for, be accountable for them. Practice them. Do not shelf them and forget about them," she tells Bustle. "Next, realize that you participated in some way to this fight. Accept that you had a role and communicate that to your partner. And finally, be empathic. Being cruel, contemptuous, spiteful, and sarcastic during conflict resolution will get you nowhere. If you can remember that you love this person, especially in your darkest fights, that will give you compassion and patience."
3 Knowledge Of Partner
"I always remember my partner's birthday and other special days."
The study found, along with communication, knowing your partner was one of the skills that predicted relationship success. But it goes beyond remembering the basics. "One of the biggest weaknesses that most couples have that I work with is a lack of knowledge of what makes their significant other feel loved," Monte Drenner, a licensed psychotherapist, Master Certified Addictions Professional, and life coach tells Bustle. "I often hear the phrase 'I know he/she loves me but I don’t feel it.' This statement is frequent in relationships from the newly wed to the nearly dead."
According to Drenner, the issue stems from not knowing or understanding the other person’s love language. It's important to communicate in your partner's love language or they won't feel love regardless of how much they're told they're loved. "Once the couple learns to communicate love in the love language of their significant other the chances for a successful relationship are increased significantly," Drenner says.
4 Life Skills
"I'm always prepared for possible hard times.".
The benefit of having been laid off or gone through an awful breakup? You probably learned valuable lessons.
"It’s only when you learn hard lessons that you gain life skills," dating and relationships expert, Dee Nand tells Bustle. "How will you appreciate a relationship when you have nothing to compare it to? Most relationship skills are learned in the drenches of an interpersonal relationship. And whatever happens, you learn which bad habits you’ve inherited through making many mistakes."
"I regularly take time to reflect on my dreams and obstacles."
It's all about staying true to you and knowing your strengths in order to reach your goals. "Taking care of yourself is paramount because life can throw all sorts of situations at you with or without a partner," Stacey Greene, author of Stronger Than Broken—One couple's decision to move through an affair tells Bustle. "If you are in the habit of loving and caring for yourself, you will always know that a partner does not define you."
6 Sex And Romance
"I always make time for sexual intimacy with my partner."
The original 2013 study, which also asked for expert opinion in addition to their sample of participants, found that most experts said "sex and romance" would be the most important skills to have. The 2016 study found that women scored higher than men on "sex and romance" skills, as well as young adults. It's no secret that sex and romance are definitely the most glamorized.
As board certified clinical psychologist, Paul DePompo, Psy.D., ABPP tells Bustle, "The best sex organ is the mind! Treating your partner with respect and kindness and listening to what turns them on will go far with intimacy and romance."
7 Stress Management
"I have no trouble prioritizing."
"If you strive for balance in your life, not overworking or overplaying, you will be able to manage stress," DePompo says. In order to find balance, look for areas in your life that you seem to be avoiding. For instance, do you work more than you play? Or vice versa? Once you find what you're lacking in, try to push through on those things, even if you only try for 15 minutes a day. This way the stress won't build up.
Feel like you need to work on some areas? Don't sweat it. The idea isn't that you master all seven skills before getting into a relationship. There's definitely room to grow once you're already in one — and you can even do it together.