Long-term relationships don't have to be boring. As amorphous as relationships are, scientific research has still been conducted, particularly in the last century, to figure out why some couples are more successful, and happier, than others. And if you're looking for the keys to a happy relationship, the details may be a lot more specific than you'd think.
A lot of the keys to long-term success in relationships boil down to successful communication styles between partners. "No two relationships are the same and there is not an exact formula to happiness and longevity," Dr. Dara, a licensed clinical psychologist, rapid resolution therapist, board certified clinical hypnotherapist, and author, tells Bustle. Because of the amazing diversity of relationships, things like honesty and consideration become much more important than any tangible relationship hacks.
Psychologists and other scientists have long been curious about relationships. And famous researchers like Dr. John Gottman have conducted decades-long studies of couples, through methods that have been repeated in research elsewhere as well. So a lot of the information you may be searching for is already out there. While some of the research may be hard to digest, a lot of it boils down to a certain few key points.
Here are 11 science-backed secrets to a happy, long relationship, that aren't what you'd expect.
1. Become An Expert At Arguing
According to research compiled by Happify, happy couples have specific fighting styles. These successful couples diffuse humor with comedy, express affection, and concede on certain points during an argument.
"There’s a healthy way to argue as well as an unhealthy way to argue," therapist Adina Mahalli, MSW, tells Bustle. "You need to learn how to express your feelings without offending your partner." Partners that feel respected and heard, even during moments of tension, last longer in relationships.
2. Having A Lowkey Relationship
According to Harvard Medical School research, happy, long-lasting couples have a rollercoaster of emotions for the few first years, and then cortisol and serotonin levels return to normal. This may sound disappointing, but it's really positive.
"You can’t expect your relationship to be the same as the day you married your partner," Mahalli says. "It’s going to change and evolve, hopefully for the better. It’s important for you to have the right expectations. In reality, you won’t be gaga over each other every single day for the rest of your lives [...] Your love for them will constantly evolve and that’s a good thing." The happiest relationships aren't necessarily the most passionate.
3. Not Criticizing
Dr. John Gottman, a renowned psychological researcher who focuses on marital stability and divorce prediction, has identified "Four Horsemen" through his research. These four horsemen are communication styles that predict the end of a relationship.
The first of these four is criticism. Couples who can avoid criticizing one another — like hyperbolizing complaints like "you didn't take out the trash this month" to "you never help around the house" — are more likely to stay together long-term.
4. Not Acting Out Of Contempt
The second of the Four Horsemen is contempt. Communicating with contempt connotes things like disrespect, condescension, or mocking. Avoiding this is really important for a long-lasting relationship.
"The foundation of any relationship formula is simple, treat others how you want to be treated!" Dr. Dara says. You probably don't appreciate it when a partner attacks you with contempt, so avoiding it yourself is also worthwhile.
5. Not Being Defensive
The third of the Four Horsemen, defensiveness, is another scientifically-backed enemy to long-lasting happiness in relationships.
If you want to last with your partner long-term, responding to criticism with defensiveness isn't advised. Successful couples are able to concede to admitting they're mistaken every once and a while.
6. Not Stonewalling
The fourth of the Four Horsemen, stonewalling, is another communication style backed by research to be detrimental to couples' success.
"The brain is wired to seek resolution to issues, and stonewalling prevents emotional resolution from happening," David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "Whether it's the 'silent treatment' or just ignoring your partner, it can cause real emotional distress in the person being stonewalled." Successful couples, on the other hand, are emotionally open with one another.
7. A Magic Ratio
According to science, through research conducted by the Gottman Institute, there is, in fact, a "magic relationship ratio." Couples who can communicate according to this ratio are more likely to succeed over time.
In successful relationships, couples are able to limit one negative interaction to five positive ones. This ratio is hard to measure in your daily life, but a worthwhile goal to strive for.
8. Talking To Each Other More
Research compiled by Happify also has shown that couples who actually take the time to have meaningful conversations with one another are more likely to succeed.
The more successful couples talk, on average, five hours more a week, than ones who don't last. Just being together, and talking, can help strengthen your relationship.
9. Having Sex Once A Week
Making time for intimacy is important in a relationship, according to Happify. More sex isn't always tied directly to a better relationship, but the happiest couples have sex once a week.
"When we have sex, our brains release a lot of 'feel good' chemicals, and the effects are pleasant even after the sex," Bennett says. "One chemical is oxytocin which helps us feel a bond with our partner, so that alone could lead to a happier relationship." Physical intimacy is important, then, even as the years go by.
10. Sharing New Experiences
New experiences, too, are important to a successful long-term relationship. Happify's compiled research shows that couples who do new things together report feeling more loving and supportive of one another, and more satisfied with their marriages.
"Novelty leads to the creation of new dopamine receptors in the brain, and that feels really good," Bennett says. "So, getting out of your stagnant couple patterns and consistently trying new things will give you that happy and blissful feeling (this includes in the bedroom as well)." Plus, trying new things rounds out your life in general as well.
11. Doing "Small Things Often"
Dr. John Gottman's motto is "small things often," and the Gottman Institute backs this claim up with science. Small gestures really do count in a marriage or long-term partnership.
Daily rituals, and habits of saying things like "please," "thank you," and "sorry," all add up over time. Successful couples build these things into their relationship, and it can help keep these couples happy over time.
Predicting relationship success is not an exact science, but there is a lot of research out there. These keys to happiness that long-term couples have found are largely about making small changes to be more considerate of your partner's feelings. A long, happy relationship may be more attainable than you realize.