There’s something odd about the very idea of “the science of marriage.” Raising kids together, negotiating disputes, or having good sex—these aren’t “scientific” activities. It would be odd to use predictive analytics to improve your parenting. It would be even stranger to use data sets of your past trysts to spice up your sex life.
Science can’t explain the mystery of marriage—the actual experience of being in love. And yet, over the last 30 years, a growing body of evidence has helped shed some light on what works and what doesn’t in marriage.
After reading much of the research and interviewing numerous researchers and marriage experts for our forthcoming book, here is our list of the top five research-based tips for optimizing marriage.
5 Practical Ways to Improve Your Marriage
1. Focus on positive interactions
John Gottman, a preeminent marriage researcher, purports to be able to predict the likelihood of divorce with over 90% accuracy. How does he do it? It all comes down to what he calls the 5-to-1 ratio. Couples that interact with five positive interactions for every one negative interaction are likely to stay together. Couples that get caught in a cycle of negative interactions, on the other hand, seem destined for divorce.
University of Utah sociologist Daniel Carlson’s research points to another foundational skill in marriage: communication. His studies show that communication leads to a more egalitarian division of labor, which in turn leads to greater relationship satisfaction as well as more and better sex.
3. Divide your labor
It’s great to interact positively and communicate well. But recent polling shows that an equal distribution of household labor ranks among the top three reasons people cite as keys to making marriage work. The Pew Research Center notes that over 60% of married people view sharing household tasks as essential to the success of marriage. In one woman’s words, “I like hugs. I like kisses. But what I really love is help with the dishes.”
4. Be friends with each other
Gottman’s research points to one other important insight: Couples with deep friendships report higher levels of marital satisfaction. The reason? Friendship is correlated to deeper levels of understanding, admiration, and mutual respect.
5. Have sex at least once a week
Researchers have long known that sex is linked to relationship satisfaction. However, the research of psychologist Amy Muise shows that the link between sexual frequency and relationship well-being stops at having sex once per week. It’s what researchers call a “curvilinear” association. The more sex you have, the more your relationship satisfaction improves—that is, until you hit once a week. From there on out, relationship satisfaction stays the same, no matter how much mind-blowing sex you have.
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