Every relationship is different. However, there is a large body of research which observes indicators of relationship health and destructive patterns. Toucan Together brings together key principles as well as over 20 years experience so couples can be confident that by putting in time and effort they can grow a happier, healthier relationship.
There are many more factors than are listed here that contribute to happy couples, but we’ve outlined a few that are consistently agreed upon by researchers and experts…
The most important aspect of a healthy and lasting relationship is emotional connection.
“The greatest gift one lover has to give another, is emotionally attuned attention and timely responsiveness.” - Dr Sue Johnson1. She defines love as “a special kind of emotional bond, the need for which is wired into our brains by millions of years of evolution.” We are not meant to be alone! Secure and close connection is the foundation of good relationships. Disconnection brings anxiety and distress.
Leading US researcher Dr John Gottman2 describes small daily interactions between couples as ‘bids’ to stay emotionally connected. A partner who choses to ‘turn toward’, rather than ‘turn away’ from, their partner sends a message that they are attentive, caring and supportive. In a study Gottman noted that: “happily married couples noticed almost all of the positive things their partners do for them …unhappily married couples underestimated their partners’ loving intentions by 50 percent!” Gottman’s key to success is to respond to your partner’s bids for connection.
Explore this in the Communication and Loving Modules
In a 2017 survey by Relate3of 5,000 people in the UK, 67% of respondents selected trust as the number one factor in a good relationship. Trust is built when there is commitment and emotional security, because we feel ‘safe’. Commitment, defined, as the intention to maintain a relationship over time, plays a vital role in relationship stability.
Dr Gottman says: “Love and romance and trust are conscious decisions to cherish what is wonderful about your partner and nurture gratefulness for what you have. What people frequently do instead is nurture resentment for what they don’t have. Trust has got to be mutual."
Dr Scott Stanley4, leading researcher in commitment theory, is clear that cohabiting and ‘asymmetrically committed relationships’ are much more likely to break up. Gottman cautions: “When you start living with somebody you fall into Kahneman’s II thinking. You see the red flags,” though the outlook may seem bright at the beginning of a relationship, trust makes or breaks a serious commitment to another person.’ What keeps people in relationships is commitment, not looking for the next best thing.
Explore this in the Communication, Conflict and Growing Modules
There’s a myth that extra marital affairs cause divorce. Another myth is that arguing a lot will result in break up. Only 9% of couples who break up have a high conflict relationship ie, arguing a lot, a year prior to splitting and it might surprise you that 60 % of couples are both happy and not quarrelling a year prior to splitting! BUT, almost a third of couples cite ‘drifting apart’ as the reason they divorced.5
What’s key to not ‘drifting apart’ is emotional connection and consciously building the relationship through ‘we-inspired’ actions as opposed to selfishness; deciding to do what’s good for ‘us’ and not just what’s good for ‘me’. There are many studies showing the benefits of “sacrifice” (giving up what I want sometimes ...though not becoming a martyr) for the sake of the relationship.
Explore this in our Loving and Growing Modules
Dr. Gottman says: “Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”
Ground-breaking research for strengthening marriages by Scott Stanley and Howard Markman6 led to a best-seller and now classic publication: ‘Fighting for your marriage’. Gottman’s research is able to predict with over 90% accuracy which couples will divorce and which will stay together by recognising ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’, which describe particularly destructive behaviours that need to be managed.
Explore this in our Conflict Module
A 2004 study of 16,000 people in the USA found that sex was strongly and positively connected to happiness. Recent studies observed declines in sexual frequency in the UK and USA. Whether you have sex frequently, occasionally or not at all, what is important to your well-being depends on whether sex matters to you and your partner.
Choosing not to have sex before marriage is a good thing. Research has shown that couples who wait until marriage to have sex are happier with their sex lives and their relationship. Zach Brittle 7, LMHC, Certified Gottman Therapist specialising in evidence-based couples therapy explains: “Committed sex is best because it’s actually real. Presumably, it’s part of a total package of intimacy that includes intellectual, and emotional, and even spiritual intimacy. In that way, it’s fuller and richer and better.”
Explore this in the Loving Module