Top Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction – Advice from Psychologists
The quality of our romantic relationships can impact our mental and physical health as well as our overall feeling of life satisfaction1. This is subject to a number of objective measures (e.g. conflict management and intimacy) that predict the success of our relationships as well as subjective measures. A common measurement used to assess and predict relationship quality is relationship satisfaction. The subjective appraisal of one’s experience of their relationship and how attracted they are to their relationship2. We look at some of the top predictors of relationship satisfaction with advice from psychologists.
This measure is helpful because it accounts for an individual’s personal values within their relationship. For example, longevity, commitment, independence or freedom. Although how we appraise our relationship may differ there are several factors that predict a higher level of satisfaction for the majority of people.
A 2020 study3 found that the most reliable relationship variables were perceived partner commitment (e.g., “My partner would never leave me”), appreciation (e.g., “I am so grateful for my partner”), sexual satisfaction (e.g., “How satisfied are you with the quality of your sex life?”), perceived partner satisfaction (e.g., “Our relationship makes my partner very happy”), and conflict (e.g., “How often do you have fights with your partner?”).
Over the coming weeks, I will explore each of these factors.
Perceived partner commitment
A 2012 study4 found that how committed you feel your partner is to your relationship will influence how you respond to relationship threats. They found that those who perceive their partner to have high commitment compared to those who perceive it as low, responded with less distress and maintained a greater feeling of connectedness. Furthermore, our individual tendency towards connection or risk-aversion to threats can also influence our reactions. At face value this study might seem to condemn those with low perceived partner commitment to a lifetime of abject disconnection. However, it’s important to note that this study is about our perception of our partner’s commitment. This may vary drastically from their actual displays of commitment or their intention to remain committed. Our perception is influenced and distorted by various factors from our childhood and adult experiences as well as our circumstances.
Psychological disorders such as OCD, anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder can significantly influence our perception of intimate connection, commitment and rejection. A sub-theme of OCD and Generalised Anxiety called Relationship OCD/Anxiety can induce distressing intrusive thoughts that cause a person to endlessly worry and/or try to get reassurance of their partner’s commitment to them. Ironically, this incessant assurance seeking can be such a burden on their partner that it leads to the end of the relationship. Even an empathetic and patient partner can feel hurt by constant doubt of their commitment. Although it is the person’s fault that they behave this way, it can be very helpful to seek help from a psychologist or couples counsellor to reduce the effect it can have on the relationship.
Attachment Styles Explained
Another factor that influences our perception of commitment is attachment styles 5. Attachment styles are a concept of measuring a person’s ability to healthily engage in relationships. Some people are more likely to reactively avoid relationships and others to excessively attach themselves to a person. There are several variances within the attachment style model, however Avoidant and Anxiously attached styles are relevant in this context. Those who are avoidant attached may perceive a healthy display of commitment (e.g. introducing them to their parents after dating for many months) as an egregious threat to their independence. In contrast, those who are anxiously attached may perceive a healthy boundary in a relationship (e.g. wanting to spend a weekend alone with their friends) as a severe rejection or abandonment. Although attachment styles are formed in early childhood and remain consistent through our lives, they can be improved with healthy relationships and psychotherapy. Many psychologists and couples counsellors have trained in attachment style therapy and can assist you in your relationship or dating life. The Mark Grove’s podcast on this topic is an excellent free resource for a further deep dive.
Next Steps you can Seek through Therapy
It’s normal for feelings of connection and commitment in a relationship to fluctuate. However, it’s important to remember that our perception of the relationship can be excessively distorted by erroneous factors. If you’ve got reason to believe this might be the case for yourself, then it may be worth seeing a psychologist or couples counsellor.
- Meyler, D., Stimpson, J. P., & Peek, M. K. (2007). Health concordance within couples: A systematic review. Social Science & Medicine, 64(11), 2297-2310. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.02.007
- Bradbury, T. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 964–980.
- Joel, S., Eastwick, P. W., Allison, C. J., Arriaga, X. B., Baker, Z. G., Bar-Kalifa, E., Bergeron, S., Birnbaum, G. E., Brock, R. L., Brumbaugh, C. C., Carmichael, C. L., Chen, S., Clarke, J., Cobb, R. J., Coolsen, M. K., Davis, J., De Jong, D. C., Debrot, A., Dehaas, E. C., . . . Wolf, S. (2020). Machine learning uncovers the most robust self-report predictors of relationship quality across 43 longitudinal couples studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(32), 19061-19071. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1917036117
- Reyes, Norma L., “Perceived Partner Commitment and Implicit Self-Esteem Predicts Connectedness Accessibility in Response to Relationship Threat” (2012). Master’s Theses. 849. https://ecommons.luc.edu/luc_theses/849
- Ainsworth, M. and Bell, S., 1970. Attachment, Exploration, and Separation: Illustrated by the Behavior of One-Year-Olds in a Strange Situation. Child Development, 41(1), p.49.