A new study published in evolutionary psychology attempts to shed light on the most effective strategies for maintaining and enhancing intimate relationships. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research has shown that efforts to understand a partner’s needs, discuss issues, and show more interest in a partner are the most popular and effective strategies for improving intimate relationships.
Maintaining an intimate relationship is difficult, and about half of marriages are likely to fail. However, for many, ending a romantic relationship is not the desired outcome, so individuals strive to improve their relationship. To examine the strategies people use to improve their intimate relationships and their effectiveness in achieving this goal, Menelaus Apostolou and colleagues wanted to identify methods of partner attachment and classify them into broader strategies.
Behaviors that people employ to maintain and improve relationships can be divided into two groups: costly behaviors and beneficial behaviors. Cost-inducing behaviors lower the partner’s self-esteem and lead to anxiety and social isolation to reduce the likelihood of a breakup. In contrast, benefit-providing behavior increases the partner’s enjoyment of the relationship.
Apostolou and his team were interested in the strategies individuals use to improve their intimate relationships with partners. The research involved 219 Greek-speaking participants who were asked open-ended questions to find out what they typically do to improve their relationships. These responses were aggregated into 81 different strategies, which were then segmented into 14 broader relationship improvement interventions through quantitative research methods with a different group of 511 Greek-speaking participants.
This component of the research found that strategies such as trying to understand partner needs, discussing problems with partners, and showing more interest in partners were among the most likely to be used and most effective. Conversely, the research team also found that self-improvement efforts and improving one’s appearance were the least effective and least likely to be used.
The study further hypothesized that partners who are controlling and lack agreeable qualities are causes of relationship difficulties. One suggested solution was to give her partner more space to lessen control over him. However, this strategy was found not to be particularly effective and was ranked as one of the least likely.
The most effective strategies were those that displayed desirable character traits, such as kindness, understanding, and a pleasant personality, the researchers said.
The study also found that gender and age did not affect what strategies individuals were willing to use and how effective they would be in improving their relationships with partners. The only significant gender difference was found in the make concessions and compromises strategy, which males were more willing to employ.
In summary, the study provides insights into the strategies individuals use to improve their intimate relationships with partners. The most effective strategies were those that demonstrated desirable character traits such as kindness, understanding, and a pleasant personality. The research team concluded, “Our findings have potential practical value for people seeking to improve their intimate relationships and for mental health professionals seeking to help clients facing difficulties in their intimate relationships.”
The study, I Want Our Relationship to Last: Strategies People Use to Improve Intimate Relationships, was authored by Menelaus Apostolou, Maria Argyridou, Eirini Evaggelia Nikoloudi, and Timo Juhani Lajunen