Questions about the assumptions behind research conclusions are frequently raised. Two recent research on relationship satisfaction demonstrate this. One study examined trends in total couples’ happiness over time.
The other looked at two different motives for having sex between partners and how that affected how they felt about their relationship. Both studies reveal what was lacking in the relationship that caused it to terminate or often crucial but often neglected factors that enable a relationship to thrive and persist over time.
Investigation of “Wave” Pattern in Relationship Satisfaction
The first study is based on more than 165,000 participants from all over the world and was conducted by the University of Bern. It was discovered that relationship satisfaction fluctuates in waves that can be predicted. That is, until about 40 years of age, or roughly 10 years after the start of a partnership, the findings showed a consistent decline in couples’ satisfaction.
Then, until roughly age 65, when participants in the study were allowed to be, satisfaction seems to rise and stays steady for the following 10 years. The study was published in Psychological Bulletin.
An inevitable, broad, up-and-down wave? But what might that pattern mask about what helps or hinders individual couples’ lives?
The wave pattern of the data suggests a relationship between the age of the subject and the duration of the union. The person’s age appears to matter more, though. The latter finding also points to less obvious themes that lie behind the information about people’s lives.
That is, as couples or individuals go through psychotherapy, it is frequently revealed that one or both partners have gradually changed or “evolved” in terms of their values or what they are looking for in life.
Partners may develop in parallel directions or they may have different ideas about what they want their future to look like. That is a fundamental life problem, or as one individual put it, “figuring out what I’m really living for.”
The trajectory of a couple’s emotional, sexual, and spiritual connection over time is directly impacted by whether they develop in lockstep or drastically diverge. Under the broad up-and-down pattern the research reveals, those alterations might continue to be imperceptible. But such adjustments are enormously relevant to couples’ feelings of satisfaction.
One couple, for instance, expressed astonishment and thanks for having “lucked out” and experienced years of mutual progress and enjoyment. But another couple in contrast to the research that satisfaction increases until about age 65, then remains stable is more typical of many others: Both admitted to experiencing a pull in their lives in different directions as they got older and found other things to be rewarding. They were able to part ways amicably and with mutual respect.
Sometimes, that’s not so congenial: One partner remarked about their relationship, “It’s not that we see the same things, but differently; it’s like we’re seeing different things.”
Exploration of Midlife Sexual Expression and Relationship Satisfaction
Similar concerns concerning untapped sources of relationship satisfaction are raised by a different study on the subject. It came from the University of Guelph and was conducted with Canadian men and women in their mid-life. It was published in The Journal of Sex Research.
The emphasis was on different sexual behaviors and how they correlated with a happy relationship. In comparison to women who had sex with their spouse to “do something nice,” it was discovered that those who did so out of “obligation” experienced more negative emotions and had lower levels of relationship satisfaction. The latter group indicated views about their relationship that were more favorable.
Male couples showed the least variation, for unknown reasons. This shows that there are disparities between the socially conditioned attitudes of men and women regarding the function or “use” of sex in a relationship.
Sexual behavior that sounds transactional rather than relational, such as that which is performed out of obligation, duress, or even a desire to “do something kind,” decreases happiness with time.
Many couples struggle to discover what improves their desire to stay together, helps establish and preserve positive connection, emotionally and sexually. The causes of a relationship’s decline or discontent frequently reflect adjustments made in each partner’s personal life, as I mentioned above.
The results of clinical and empirical study can be used to guide couples in their efforts to align their values as closely as feasible. This entails confronting one another’s aspirations, fears, and shared journey-related vision.
Here are three ways that can help:
Talk more with each other: Set aside some time to discuss your goals and aspirations for your lives both individually and collectively. Talk to one another. Ask inquiries, but refrain from making snap judgments about what you hear. Do your best to be sincere. Next, consider the goals you and your partner have for your current stage of life, including your careers, your financial condition, and your family.
Where are they similar? Where are they different?
Reveal yourself: Express and demonstrate your inner experience in your regular contacts. It may be about a discussion, a problem, or a worry. It could relate to a problem between you two or to your own life. It entails being open about who you are and expressing your thoughts, feelings, desires, and worries. No hiding out because of embarrassment, apprehension, or possible rejection. Each participant in this situation wants to be receptive to the other and to reciprocate in kind.
Make small gestures of caring and kindness: That means actions toward your partner, rather than just words or “saying the right thing.” Many couples encounter disappointment and sadness in that area. In other words, you might believe that saying something kind or encouraging is a way to show love.
Of course, that’s great. But what really matters are the small, everyday acts of love a smile, a touch, a kind remark, or a compliment on something they did. In reality, a Penn State study has shown that those who claim to experience their partner’s love mention receiving those little favors and gestures in day-to-day living. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships published the study.
In essence, ongoing emotional, sexual, and spiritual connection deepening between partners with intentional effort and practice reflects persistent contentment and enjoyment in a partnership.