Understanding the psychology behind relationships helps us to understand why so many go wrong. Here are five strategies for long-term relationship success.
As Barton Goldsmith Ph.D, licensed psychotherapist and author of books such as Emotional Fitness for Couples: 10 Minutes a Day to a Better Relationship, writes on Psychology Today: “Relationships that work are the ones that are worked on.” People often have a romantic notion of what makes the “perfect relationship” and are perpetually disappointed when the initial spark of a great romance wears off, and they find that long-term relationship success is dependent on something very different than what Hollywood rom-coms would have you believe.
5 Important characteristics of a good relationship
There are, indeed, ‘strategies’ you can adopt to make a relationship work in the long-term, because there is a science to it, as much as many may prefer to believe their relationship is predestined, and therefore certain to succeed.
Adopting these strategies, which are derived from numerous studies into the psychology that drives relationships, can help build the foundation for a successful long-term relationship.
Here are five qualities you should aim to preserve in a relationship:
Barton Goldsmith says that “communication is the most important part of your relationship”. Couples often jokingly complain about how their significant other is difficult to understand. For some, this is actually part of the romantic appeal of the relationship. In the long-term though, relationships where one expects their significant other to telepathically know their thoughts and feelings are likely to result in a large degree of frustration.
Brian Ogolsky, an associate professor in human development and family studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, analysed over 1,100 academic studies on the subject of “what makes love last”, and listed some of the strategies in an article for Time. One of his conclusions was that the ability to settle differences was critical to relationship success, whether it be through compromise, agreeing to disagree, or apologising. He writes: “Those who stonewall or decline to engage have less chance of staying together.”
You get plenty of couples that feel like they have to do everything together, but couples that are able to enjoy alone time are more likely to last in the long-term. It’s important to be able to give each other space, and to accept that you may not be interested in some of your partner’s hobbies, and they may not be interested in some of yours.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, better known to fans of her successful radio and TV programmes as “Dr. Ruth”, believes that most people have unreasonable expectations of a relationship. She told Business Insider: “Hollywood and the movies tell us that the stars have to be twinkling every night,” adding, “That’s not reality of life.”
In order for a relationship to work in the long-term, the couple needs to ground their expectations in reality, and accept that their significant other will struggle to live up to the ideal that has been sold to us by Hollywood.
Barton Goldsmith says: “Every time you do something to make your partner smile, it creates chemicals like oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘cuddle hormone,’ in both of your brains, which makes you feel closer.” The best relationships have an element of playfulness to them, which keeps things fresh. It also demonstrates that you and your significant other are comfortable enough to make light of each other without taking it as a personal attack.
Why couples counselling can help strengthen relationships
Many relationships benefit from understanding the psychology behind relationships, which in turn helps explain why people keep repeating the same mistakes they have made in the past, or keep seeking out partners with qualities that have made for unsuccessful relationships.
It all points to the truth that relationship success is not dependent on some divine spark, but rather on the people involved being willing to investigate themselves, and accept the uncertainty that accompanies the human condition.
Couples counselling has helped to save many relationships for this very reason. Many couples struggle with articulating what they really require, so the argument becomes all about the other person. A counsellor will first help you to both recognise the roles that you tend to play, and then assist you to own your behaviours and identify your needs – and, finally, to be able to effectively voice those needs without slipping into self-defeating role playing.
You could learn more about the role of the couples counsellor, and the psychology that drives relationships, by studying counselling at SACAP. There are a range of counselling courses on offer, including part-time and full-time as well as distance learning options. These include SACAP’s Bachelor of Psychology professional degree, which is approved by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and therefore qualifies you to become a registered counsellor. For more information, enquire now.