How to have a happy relationship

Five ways researchers have proven the science behind love


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Dr. Gottman says to turn toward your partner when they seek your attention

If you want a happy, lasting relationship, it’s time to dispense with romanticized notions of happily ever after and instead turn to science for a reality check. Here’s what researchers have reported you can do to have the best relationship:

1. Respond to your partner’s “bids” by turning toward them when they seek your attention. Dr. John Gottman’s research with thousands of couples suggests that the happy ones recognize and respond positively to even the slightest bid for attention. For example, when your partner points out a news story, the sunset or a work incident, what he or she is really seeking is a shared emotional response. Showing enthusiasm as opposed to ambivalence is confirmation of your attentiveness to your partner’s interests. Ambivalence will erode intimate connection.

2. Be more physically affectionate. Physical affection is positively correlated with happier relationships, greater life satisfaction, improved health, deeper trust and lower stress levels. German researchers report that men who kiss their partners goodbye live an average of five years longer, and another study concluded that people can still experience intense love if they remain physically affectionate, although they may be dissatisfied with their relationship.

Unfortunately, Torontonians don’t make affection a priority, with 80 per cent reaching for their phones instead of their partners before bed and first thing in the morning. All you have to do is reach out to touch your partner.

3. Overcome psychological challenges to deepen connection. Engaging in challenging activities (e.g., a dance class or skydiving) helps intimacy, but it’s important that new experiences also challenge your emotional comfort zone. Consider a meditation session (there are free sessions across Toronto), a spiritual retreat or any experience that makes you feel emotionally vulnerable.

4. Hang out with other happy couples (and singles!). Happiness is contagious, and so is divorce, according to the most recent data. Seek the company of those who inspire you to be loving, affectionate and speak positively about your partner. How you think about your partner also affects your relationship, so make an effort to admire your partner in your mind. 

5. Get more sleep. Couples who sleep well resolve conflict more effectively and have more sex. Toronto-based expert Amanda Albert of Sleep Envie suggests these simple fixes to catch more shut-eye: invest in an eye mask, skip bedtime snacks (digestion causes your body temperature to rise, which impedes sleep) and bring lavender into the bedroom to calm the nervous system.

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Jess O’Reilly is a sought-after speaker, author and sexologist. SexWithDrJess.com.

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