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 lifelong 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 Dr. 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 review of 470 studies on compatibility, Dr. Marcel Zentner, a psychologist at 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 The Science of Friendship demonstrates that people are not only making new friends online, they’re creating deep, meaningful relationships. According to this website, over 68% of those surveyed made a friend they considered a close friend in the last year, and over 80% of those close friendships were made online. That’s over 54% who have made a close friend online in the last year — a confidant that they have never met in real life, but a contact no less significant. Of all the respondents, over 89% 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.