Sustaining Relationships: Part 2

In part 1 of our series on sustaining relationships, we went over individual strategies for addressing challenges and problems in relationships. In Part 2 of the blog series on relationships, we will focus on strategies from the research that have been shown to help build and maintain relationships. 

Think positively about your partner

A couple together

One of the simplest and most straightforward ways of maintaining a relationship is to think positively about your partner and the relationship (Acitelli 2001). This could include thinking about past encounters that you enjoyed, future plans together or more generally about your partner and the relationship itself. Having a positive focus can help actively maintain your relationship (Cate 1995). 

Be generous to your partner, including small acts of kindness and affection

Giving to your partner shows your willingness to invest in the relationship. As such, being generous to your partner helps sustain the relationship (Goddard 2016). Being generous is more than giving gifts, it also includes giving your time, your attention and your affection.  

Express gratitude to your partner

Gratitude is a powerful emotion that helps build and sustain relationships. When you express appreciation and gratitude for your partner, it feeds forward, helping your partner continue to contribute to and build the relationship (Kuacka 2011). Gratitude doesn’t always have to be in response to something your partner has done. You can also be generally grateful for your partner and the relationship itself (Gordon 2011). 

If it fits with your beliefs, pray for your partner’s wellbeing 

Praying for your partner has been shown to improve relationship commitment and satisfaction (Fincham 2014). However, it’s important that the prayer be focused on positive outcomes for your partner. For example, if you have a conflict with your partner over buying a car, praying that your partner allow you to buy the car is potentially detrimental. Beneficial prayer has been shown to focus on praying for the wellbeing or for positive outcomes for your partner, not for your own gain. Praying may even benefit relationships fairly quickly, potentially within 1 to 2 months (Fincham 2008).

Communication patterns: positivity, openness, assurance, sharing tasks and social networks

When exploring communication patterns between partners five factors have been shown to play a large role in relationship quality and commitment: positivity, openness, assurance, sharing tasks and social networks (Stafford 1991). Successful relationships typically incorporate these components: 

  • Positivity–being kind and cheerful towards your partner. 
  • Openness–a willingness to share parts of yourself, to discuss your thoughts and feelings. 
  • Assurance–a focus on your commitment to, support of and faithfulness in the relationship, which helps assure your partner that the relationship has a future.
  • Sharing tasks–making sure you engage and share in chores and tasks that need to be completed for you and your partner’s wellbeing.
  • Social networks–building and maintaining connections with family and external friendships helps sustain you and your partner’s relationship.    

Be willing to talk about your relationship

A couple on a pier together

Being willing to talk about your relationship with your partner helps define your relationship. Discussing the current status and potential future components of the relationship can help with its progression. 

Relationship talk can also be useful for bringing up unmet wants and needs (Ogolsky 2017). These discussions can be difficult for some, yet they have been shown to increase relationship satisfaction, contentment, fairness, and even the mood of you and your partner (Badr 2005, Acitelli 2002). Although, it is worth noting a gender difference that women generally receive more benefit than men from discussing the relationship.

Use positive humor

Humor can help with defusing stressful situations (Abel 2008). In addition, humor can help couples decrease conflict within the relationship (Horan 2012). Although when it comes to humor, it’s important that you aren’t aggressive, sarcastic or self-defeating (Cann 2009). Making jokes about your partner or sarcastic comments in a stressful situation can easily increase rather than decrease stress. 

Spend time together doing things you enjoy

Spending time together in leisure activities that you both enjoy helps increase satisfaction within the relationship (Berg 2010). The research also suggests that past time spent together may help strengthen the relationship when leisure time is more scarce after having children (Claxton 2008). Intuitively, it makes sense that spending quality time together helps build and sustain relationships. 

Conclusion

Relationships are often a crucial component of our happiness and wellbeing. Understanding how to improve and maintain them is a critical component of our health. In these two articles on relationships, we went over some of the research from the last 30 years, summarizing strategies to help work through conflict and actively strengthen your relationships. Feel free to continue the discussion commenting below on any strategies that you have personally found to be helpful in maintaining your own relationships. 

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