How to Build a Stronger Relationship

The science of a romance that lasts

How to Build a Stronger Relationship

Let’s say your partner comes home and says, “I was promoted at work!” What’s the best way for you to respond?

Follow these basic steps: show enthusiasm, ask questions, congratulate your partner and relive the positive experience with them.

Research suggests that responding with enthusiasm to your partner’s good times is as important as—maybe even more important than—supporting him or her during tough times. So when they come home with an announcement like the one above, researchers suggest you can respond, “That’s great! How did it happen? What did your co-workers say? Let’s go out and celebrate!”

Supporting your partner’s career highs is just one way to craft a stronger relationship. Here are a few other surprisingly easy ways to strengthen the bond.

Get angry, but fight right

Angry outbursts seem like the makings of a bad romance, so it’s no surprise that many couples try to avoid conflict. Research, however, shows that angry but honest conversations can be better for your relationship than striving to forgive and forget immediately.

“The presence versus absence of conflict does not make or break a relationship,” says Denise Marigold, PhD, a relationship researcher. “It’s whether people deal with those conflicts constructively or destructively that’s more important.”

Besides being honest, happy couples tend to argue in ways that diffuse tension. This means showing humor or affection if possible and acknowledging when your partner makes a good point. The opposite end of the argument spectrum includes criticizing, showing contempt and rolling your eyes.

Good communication simply means being “open, honest and willing to be vulnerable,” says Marigold. “Truly listen to the other person’s perspective, even when it is difficult for you to do so. Listen without thinking about what point you’re going to make next.”

Aim for a 5:1 ratio of positive-to-negative interactions. For every criticism or argument, aim for five positive interactions, like a hug, a compliment or playful teasing.

Get out and about

Bored by the same old dinner and Netflix routine every Friday night? Get out of the rut. One study of married couples found that boredom strongly predicted low marriage satisfaction nine years later.

New experiences activate the brain’s reward systems—not unlike the rush of new love. Make date night exciting by cooking together, attending an art show or traveling somewhere new.

Meeting new people—especially other couples—is another good idea. A strong network of friends can benefit your relationship. After conducting more than 400 interviews, researchers concluded that couples who befriend other couples experience a boost in relationship happiness.

Be matchy-matchy

Researchers have pinpointed lifestyle habits that affect couples’ contentment. The happiest pairs tend to share household chores, drink the same amount of alcohol and be equally thrifty or spendthrift.

The main takeaway is that relationships take effort. As Marigold says, “Be kind to each other, even when you feel hurt or disappointed or angry. Act in a loving way even when you don’t feel loving.”