According to new research by The University of Exeter, there are 10 questions you should ask to help you know if your relationship or marriage will last. The research by Barlow et al. (2018) is said to have been conducted over a period of 10 years and as I was on BBC Breakfast TV talking about the research two days ago (July 28th 2018), here I’m going to give you additional help so that you know why such questions are important to ask yourself, and each other. The questions seem like common sense but common sense only helps if you apply it. Here’s a little about why you should.
Are my partner and I a ‘good fit’?
When you share the same values and similar life goals such as:
- a desire to be adventuress,
- how important personal development is,
- whether you want to have children,
- the sort of lifestyle you aspire to,
- ages by which you wish to achieve certain milestones,
where you want to live (e.g. near family, in the countryside),
- how important family is to you and so on,
you will find growing together is much easier, fewer conflicts will occur, and you’ll resolve issues that do arise more easily because you both are working towards the same end goal, whether that goal is a value or a tangible life goal, such as those examples stated just now.
It’s also about complementing each other with our skill sets so even if you are two opposites that have attracted, if one of you brings a skill, e.g. money management, that the other doesn’t, that can be wonderful. Having a partner with different skills to your own can be a very important survival skill, you then suddenly form a stronger team because they’re good at what you’re not good at and vice versa, and that can help massively in life, in your personal life and your professional life.
Do we have a strong basis of friendship?
Here are some of the things I have frequently stated over the years, online and offline, and you’ll find them in my book of 500 quotes:
- Make new friends and you may find your soul mate among them.
- Romantic relationships based on friendship tend to be the strongest and stand the best chance of lasting.
- Sometimes the romantic attraction comes after the mental attraction.
- Nurture a friendship with those you have a mental attraction to, they may turn out to be the one you were looking for all along.
- It is the ongoing patterns of love, trust, respect, friendship, commitment and communication that we demand and offer, that are integral to our relationship outcomes.
- Marriage is when friendship forms the foundation of your life together.
Friendship has to be the basis of your life together because that’s what makes you value your spouse and maintain an ongoing desire for them to be happy and do what you can to help ensure they are, such as being a good listener, being helpful, being empathic, being compassionate and being committed to resolving your relationship problems together because you value the friendship-based relationship you have. It also means you have to ensure you are happy, too. Longitudinal research spanning 35 years highlights that a person’s happiness rises and falls pretty much in line with the happiness of their spouse. Two happy individuals make a happy relationship. There is no room in a marriage for ‘you vs. me’. We win together or we lose together. Make sure you’re always steering your ship towards safety and away from the rocks, every time you need to. Once the holes in your relationship are too big, it can be difficult to repair and protect your marriage.
Think about the great friendships you have and use them as a kind of blueprint; that’s what you want to seek out for marriage, except with marriage you have deeper physical intimacy.
Do we want the same things in our relationship and out of life?
For this refer back to my notes under ‘Are my partner and I a ‘good fit’?’ Also, along life’s journey, make sure you continually set individual goals that make you happy to achieve them AND continually set shared goals with your partner so that you grow together rather than apart.
Are our expectations realistic?
If your expectations are unrealistic, you are only setting yourself and your partner up for failure, misery and likely, divorce, or at the very least, an unhappy marriage. When you are considering a life-long commitment to someone, look at who they are now, their values, morals, their repeat behaviours, the consistency between what they say and do (how trustworthy and reliable they are), their likes, dislikes, their realistic aspirations, and their potential. Never try to make someone fit your ideal, simply find someone who closely matches your ideal as some things are ‘nice-to-have’ but not ‘deal-breakers’.
Do we generally see the best in each other?
You consciously and subconsciously work towards what you focus on. If you always find fault in your partner and frequently verbalise their ‘flaws’, your brain will tend to work at finding more of them and you will also help create more of them through your own influencing, relationship-sabotaging behaviours. Of course we need to be aware of faults, but we don’t have to frequently verbalise every fault; instead use them as points of reflection so that you can work out how you would rather things were and if those changes are important for the overall health and longevity of your relationship, then set about thinking of solutions that will help and then verbalise the desired outcome rather than the fault. Spend more of your time focusing on your partner’s good points, genuinely verbalising your appreciation of them and all they bring, daily if you can, and you’ll naturally encourage more good behaviours in your partner, they will feel appreciated, and they will likely do more ‘good things’. Positive language, daily, is incredibly important to relationship health.
Do we both work at keeping our relationship vibrant?
Complacency is one of the biggest relationship killers. Never assume someone is going to spend their life with you, especially if you stop making them feel valued and appreciated and stop making an effort to have fun with them. Keep exploring new things together and having new enjoyable experiences together. Such novelty and new learning releases the feel good chemical dopamine and when the brain frequently experiences two things together, it builds an association of one with the other so if you often get a feel-good rush with your partner, over time you come to associate your partner with that feel-good factor.
It’s also important to maintain daily physical and emotional intimacy whenever possible and it is nearly always possible if your relationship is important to you. Even when one of you spends time working away, there are video chats and other forms of digital and non-digital communication that will keep the relationship intimate and exciting if you want it to be.
Do we both feel we can discuss things freely and raise issues with each other?
When working with couples who have gotten into difficulties, they often either (a) argue all the time and thus struggle to resolve important issues, frequently creating an association of frustration and discontent with their spouse and marriage or (b) have found communicating and resolving issues so difficult and painful that they have stopped trying and are now silent about the important issues. Both practises will unravel your marriage, mental health and well-being if allowed to continue for a lengthy period of time. Life is going to challenge you and you’re both going to develop and change over the years, and you need a way to communicate healthily through it so that both of your needs are always met as you age together. If one person’s needs are not met or neither of your needs are being met over the long-term, staying together becomes incredibly difficult, especially now where divorce is no longer such a taboo and where there are so many lures towards things like infidelity (thank you social media) and reminders of how ‘happy’ and ‘satisfying’ everyone else’s relationships are (thank you social media).
Are we both committed to working through hard times?
I will make two points here, though of course there are many more. One, James Dobson said it perfectly when he said, ‘Don’t marry the person you think you can live with; marry only the individual you think you can’t live without.’ When you can’t imagine your life without them and when friendship forms the basis of your marriage, you’ll commit to working through the hard times, fairly effortlessly, considering what life may throw at you. It comes down to having a driving motivation to make the relationship a life-lasting success. Two, a commitment to working through the hard times also requires you to look after your own mental health and well-being so that you have the resilience for facing life’s many challenges. In Resilient Me you’ll find a practical guide on how to build resilience in four weeks.
When we face stressful circumstances would we pull together to get through it?
Marriage is about being a team. Imagine you are on a boat and that you need to keep it afloat and that means that for the rest of your time sailing together, you need to steer it away from rocks, send a life buoy into the water if your partner falls in, pull them back onto the boat as soon as you can, plug any holes in the boat that do arise from any big bumps you do have and bucket by bucket remove any water weighing the boat down dangerously. Do whatever it takes to listen to each other, show love, respect and care for one another, resolve to understand one another and cater to each other’s healthy needs and desires, support them in their personal development, and protect your marriage from intruders, e.g. people with bad intentions who want to sabotage your marriage. Importantly, work out how you can get the best out of your partner and how you can give your best, e.g. do you need to try a different communication style or do you need to take more time out for self-care such as more ‘me-time to’ replenish your resilience reserves.
Do we each have supportive others around us?
People power – I’m obsessed with it! Positive relationships help give us perspective on our problems, help us to understand and love ourselves, can help us to understand our partner better, they reinforce our resilience for life’s challenges, and research spanning well over half a century shows good people help us to stay healthier and live longer. Good people are your health and survival, they are integral to positive life outcomes so be sure to create supportive relationships if you don’t already have them, and you will find they help buffer you from pain when your marriage is difficult and will help you to redirect the course when your marriage starts charting stormy waters.
As you can imagine, I have so much more to say on all of the above but I hope that provides some helpful insights that help you to make the right decision about who you marry and how you stay happily married for life. Also, here is what I said on BBC Breakfast TV at the weekend: