A New Study of 11,000 Couples Reveals the Secret of a Happy Marriage

Research shows this relationship tip could be the key to life-long love.

As any couple can attest: Relationships are hard. They take a lot of patience and hard work, but can also be extremely fulfilling if you find the right long-term partner. Yet, if you're seeking the secret to a happy marriage, it might not be the cliché dating advice you've heard before, such as having the same hobbies or personality traits. In fact, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the overall quality of your relationship is a stronger predictor of relationship satisfaction than any individual differences that could potentially tear you apart.

"The person we choose is not nearly as important as the relationship we build," Samantha Joel, PhD, the study's lead author and the director of the Relationship Decision Lab at Canada's Western University, recently told Inverse.

The team of researchers led by Joel analyzed 11,196 couples across 43 studies and found that there are two separate categories that relationship dynamics fall into. The first is the individual ingredients, such as each person's life satisfaction, income, negativity, attachment issues, and empathy. The second group is the relationship variables, including perceived partner commitment, appreciation, and happiness, as well as sexual satisfaction and conflict.

couple dancing in kitchen

"The dynamic that you build with someone—the shared norms, the in-jokes, the shared experiences—is so much more than the separate individuals who make up that relationship," Joel said.

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In the end, researchers found that although the individual characteristics attributable to the members of a couple may have an initial impact on relationship satisfaction, the relationship's virtues were two to three times more likely to predict a successful life-long union.

"It really seems that having a great relationship is less about finding the perfect partner or changing your current partner, and more about building that relationship itself—setting up the conditions that will allow the relationship to flourish," Joel said. And for more advice on how to have a happy marriage, check out these 65 Ways to Be a Better Spouse After 40, According to Experts.