You want a better, more loving relationship with your spouse. You wish your friends visited more often, your children stayed in touch more frequently. You wonder if it weren’t possible to have better relationships at work and in the community.
What can you do to build long-term, perhaps life-long relationships, in all spheres of your life? Science has the answers.
Loving relationships with our spouses create happiness. You know what creates loving, happy relationships? Sex. Don’t believe me? There’s science to back it up. According to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Economics, increasing sex from once a month to once a week can significantly increase relationship satisfaction. In fact, the study found that an increase in sexual activity increased a person’s happiness as much as if they were paid $50,000 a year.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that just sexual satisfaction alone will preserve functional, successful marriages, but behavioral experts like Ian Kerner see it as a central component for what it entails: “Sex has many positive effects on individuals and relationships,” he said. “Sex can be a source of self-esteem. It can be a way of working through and resolving conflict, a way to feel safe, secure, held, seen. It can also be a source of adventure, and at the same time, a source of stress relief, a way to counter negativity with positivity.” Marriages seem to inevitably bring joys and sorrows, often at a surprising and uneven pace, and sexual activity with the right partner is a strong source of support when life seems unpredictable. Ultimately, it creates a bond for which there is no substitute.
But that’s not the only scientific secret to long-lasting relationships with your partner. It turns out that a bit of positive thinking helps, too. In a survey of 470 studies on compatibility, psychologist Marcel Zentner, Ph.D., of the University of Geneva, found only one personality trait that could indicate a level of sustained romance between partners. It wasn’t good communication, happy childhoods, determination, or even having happily married parents. The one thing that set people in happy long-term relationships apart was this: They had the ability to sustain their “positive illusions.” That is, these men and women continued to believe that their partner was funny, attractive, and ideal for them in every way. They were content with their partner and continued to see the positives in their partner, just as they had when they first met. A sort of self-deception, if you will, which further allowed them to be continuously attracted to and in love with one another.
What’s the secret to a long-lasting friendship? According to some studies, women in their late 20s and early 30s have a harder time staying in touch with old friends because of the demands of work, family, and small kids. It’s only at age 40 when women start reconnecting. This, as it happens, is a mistake women are making, and the reason they don’t have the long-lasting friendships they want. Because the scientific secret to a long-lasting friendship is actually not very scientific at all: It’s to keep in touch.
The best way to keep in touch these days is through social media: Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and Instagram. While a lot of people will dismiss social media as an egocentric place where the lonelies try to fluff up their lives, data collected by the website Science of Friendship demonstrates that people are not only making new friends online, they’re creating deep, meaningful relationships. According to the website, over 68 percent of those surveyed made a friend they considered a close friend in the last year, and over 80 percent of those close friendships were made online. That’s over 54 percent who have made a close friend online in the last year — a confidante that they have never met in real life, but a contact no less significant. Of all the respondents, 89.1 percent cited making new friends as their chief motivation for using social media.
In fact, not only should you want to have these friendships because of the community and camaraderie they provide, but research shows that women who have close friends tend to sleep better, have better self-esteem, a boosted immune system, and even live longer. Researchers even say that women who have one close friend are healthier and psychologically more fit than those with half a dozen grandchildren. By contrast, increased periods of loneliness at a later age double the risk of dementia.
You’re eating dinner … in front of the TV. You go to a party with your spouse and instead of holding his hand, you’re clutching onto your iPhone. Technology is connecting families across borders, allowing grandparents to Skype with their grandchildren, aunts get to know their newborn nephews, and long-distance siblings have three-hour long conversations in the middle of the night. Technology can keep us together, but can just as easily pull as apart.
If you want long-lasting relationships with the family physically sitting in front of you at the table, science says you’re going to need to put away that phone. A study in the journal Couple & Relationship Therapy found that having relationship-shaping conversations via text messages could negatively affect the level of emotional connection in a relationship, as do digital distractions while having in-person conversations, since you’re constantly switching from faces to your LCD screen. This is just as true for familial relationships as it is for couples.
And not to be too obvious, but do stuff together. Go to the museum, take a hike, travel abroad. If you are going to be stuck at home playing on the Wii, however, do it together. A study from the Queensland University of Technology found that playing video games has more neurological benefits than previously thought. Far from making you a couch potato, video games, particularly ones that use a network with multiple players, can help gamers build strong emotional connections and relationships. Not to mention, gaming can help improve mood, reduce stress, and levels of frustration and anxiety.
As with family, people who do things together tend to have better, happier, stronger, and yes, more long-lasting relationships than those who don’t. This doesn’t just apply to your social and family life, but to your business life as well. The people you hang out with, drink with, sometimes even live with, are the ones who have the potential to become lifelong friends, people who recommend you, business partners, or the contact you need to put your name forward when there’s a high-paying position available at their company.
You know what people do when they hang out together and do fun things together? They laugh. And that, too, is key in making your relationships better and longer lasting, according to a study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. So avoid the temptation to get caught up on your email the next time you and your co-workers go out to eat. A good rule my friends at work and I have established is to set everyone’s phones to the side of the table when eating out. Whoever is the first to reach for their phone, picks up the check for lunch. In less than a week, we began sitting down to a lunch full of good conversation and little interruption!
Having a passion for your work and putting other people’s needs ahead of your own is the key to successful business relationships. Oh, and don’t forget to say please and thank you. According to a study in the journal Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes, simple gestures such as saying thank you can improve overall happiness not only in business, but in your personal life, too. As antisocial as you might fancy yourself to be, humans are social by nature — the more you strive to maintain relationships, even just working relationships, the happier you’ll be.