While we don’t have the magic formula to predict happiness in a relationship, we may have just gotten a little bit closer. It turns out there are five key indicators that can pretty reliably tell us about relationship satisfaction in the present and to some extent, in the future.
Researchers examined data sets from 43 studies looking at over 11,000 couples in order to determine which factors best predict relationship quality.
The metastudy, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed dozens of factors to predict relationship satisfaction and commitment at the same point in time.
The top 5 predictors of relationship quality
The following five indicators most reliably predicted relationship satisfaction and commitment, beginning with the strongest predictor:
- People’s perception of their partner’s relationship commitment
- Appreciation for their partner
- Sexual satisfaction
- Perceptions of their partner’s relationship satisfaction
- Reported conflict in the relationship
Most interesting here is that both the biggest predictor and the fourth predictor centre on the respondent’s perception of these two relationship factors, rather than objective measures of these factors.
What this suggests is that whether the individual responding believes their partner is committed (regardless of whether or not their partner actually is committed) is enough to keep the relationship headed in the right direction, suggesting that feelings about the relationship play the biggest role in overall relationship satisfaction.
Future satisfaction is still hard to predict
The researchers also noted that while the same five factors are also prominent predictors of future relationship satisfaction and commitment, this association was significantly weaker.
It’s possible this may be due to the way the 43 studies were structured, with only one follow-up down the road, rather than several check-ins to give a better view of how the relationship was tracking in terms of satisfaction. In most cases, the metastudy found change in relationship quality to be unpredictable. In other words, just because you are satisfied now with your relationship didn’t mean you would continue to be satisfied in the future – it could go either way.
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What we can learn
Still, there are a couple of key takeaways from the study:
- Many of the top factors that predict relationship quality are factors we have some control over (i.e. our feelings, our appreciation of our partners and sexual satisfaction rather than say our age).
- This study provides a bird’s-eye view of relationship satisfaction by a large group of people, rather than you specifically – there is always individual variability in cases like this. So while boosting appreciation may improve one person’s relationship quality, it doesn’t mean it will be the solution for you.
Nevertheless, the above five factors can be a good starting point to reflect on when thinking about ways to improve your own relationships.
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