Maintaining a happy romantic relationship isn’t exactly rocket science, but there are scientific studies that can help avoid a failure to launch. And even though science—yes science—recommends you watch romantic movies with your partner, even science won’t force you to watch Failure to Launch (and neither will we).
Monday: Have ‘the talk’
It’s the start of the week so your energy levels probably haven’t been sapped by work yet. So tackle the biggest hurdle first (it’ll get a lot easier after this, promise): discuss the big stuff. No matter what stage your relationship is at, there’s probably a big decision looming: Should you start having sex? Move in together? Get married? Have kids? Hell, are you even in something you both define as ‘a relationship’?
It’s easier to avoid discussing big decisions and just see what happens, but beware. A five-year study by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia of 418 couples who went on to wed found that those “who slide through their relationship transitions have poorer marital quality than those who make intentional decisions about major milestones.”
The authors speculated that “couples who decide rather than slide are saying ‘our relationship is important, so let’s think about what we’re doing here’.” Simply discussing whether you both want to take the next step (and how to go about doing it) may also help identify if you both have similar levels of commitment. If one of you perceives the other to be less committed, the authors say it may be a sign of trouble down the road, with those who perceive that they have a stronger commitment to the relationship reporting lower marital quality later.
Tuesday: Help someone out
Yesterday was a big day with a big talk; now give each other a bit of space by giving something back. Lending a hand to the less fortunate can be rewarding in many ways—one of which may be contributing to a happy relationship. A national study of altruism found that “people who have strong feelings of love for people in general are more likely to have strong romantic relationships.” Of course, a loving relationship may spur altruistic tendencies, but we’d wager there’s a virtuous circle going on here and even if volunteering for a good cause doesn’t help your relationship, at least you’re being a good person.
Wednesday: Do something new
Welcome to hump day. After that big talk and an evening of good works, why not cut loose and have some fun? That’s effective at staving off relationship boredom and increasing levels of satisfaction, according to “When Nothing Bad Happens but You’re Still Unhappy: Boredom in Romantic Relationships”. The authors suggest anything new and exciting will do, but choose together with your partner. The paper “Compatibility, Leisure, and Satisfaction in Marital Relationships” claimed their study demonstrated that an activity liked by husbands but not by wives “is both a cause and a consequence of wives’ dissatisfaction.”
Thursday: Meet up with another couple
In Two Plus Two: Couples and their Couple Friendships, Geoffrey Greif and Kathleen Holtz Deal of the University of Maryland School of Social Work conducted an interview-based study into the advantages of a (healthy) friendship between couples. They concluded that the experience of seeing how other relationships work, as well as how other men and women operate, can be a beneficial learning experience. The authors also decided that it could help increase attraction within the relationship. We assume it’s important to choose a couple where your opposite number is at least two notches below you on the looks scale.
Friday: See some of your friends with your partner
A study by Lars Backstrom of Facebook and Jon Kleinberg from Cornell tried to determine the best way to identify a Facebook user’s partner (either in a relationship, engaged or married) by analysing their network of friends. The obvious route would be “embeddedness,” which means, in one sense, that all the couple’s friends know each other. But Backstrom and Kleinberg demonstrated a more reliable predictor, they called dispersion, where the couple’s mutual friends aren’t well connected to each other. This wasn’t only a more effective way of identifying romantic relationships, but could also predict when a breakup is on the horizon: “a user whose partner has a high […] dispersion is significantly less likely to transition to ‘single’ status.” A New York Times article on the paper brought it back to that old saw: “Relationships that last are ones in which the other person widens our world.” Introduce your S.O. to that interesting friend of yours tonight.
Saturday: Watch a movie
We’ve recommended a lot of nights out this week; most likely you need a night at home. In which case, make it a movie night and choose from this list of romantic movies which have “the ups and downs of day-to-day life in a committed romantic relationship” at their narrative core (yes, there are a few movies starring Hugh Grant in there, but plenty have a 90 percent-plus rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The catch is, once the movie’s finished, have a chat about the fictional relationship and how it relates to yours.
This is what a three-year study got 33 recently engaged or married couples to do. After the movie, the couple followed a discussion sheet that focussed on the fictional couple’s relationship problems, whether they showed understanding and had a strong friendship, how they handled arguments, and what their relationship expectations were. Then whether there were any similarities to the real couple’s relationship. After three years, there was a significantly lower rate of relationship breakdown (11 percent) compared to the control group (24 percent). What took the researchers by surprise was that the movie night approach was as effective as two other techniques studied: training with professionals in managing conflict (we’re always going to argue, so let’s learn how to argue without going nuclear), or “acceptance, support and empathy.”
Find all the resources at couples-research.com where you can even sign up to take part in the continuing study. To recap, spend Saturday night in watching a movie and talking about it. Sure beats spending Saturday night in and discussing your relationship.
Sunday: Pay heed to Alec Baldwin
Here’s some advice from self-proclaimed “internationally renowned relationship expert Alec Baldwin,” who’s dishing out relationship tips on Alec Baldwin’s Love Ride. (Hey, you’ve had a full-on week, the last day should be an easy one.) Baldwin regales a couple with this anecdote: “I once had a famous woman, and a famous husband—the guy’s one of the biggest stars in the world—and I said to her: If you look him right in the eye and say, ‘I love you more than anything,’ every day, he will do whatever you ask him. He will be your slave for the rest of your life.” We don’t mean to say you’re aiming for a servile partner, but looking into your S.O.’s eyes, and saying “I love you more than anything” will be the cherry on the top of an overly attentive week. Especially if they’re in sweatpants, three-episodes deep into a Broad City binge-watching session.