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How to Keep Your Romantic Relationship (and Yourself) Alive

Here we are, all hopped up on cheap Valentine’s Day chocolate, hoping to keep that loving feeling alive at least as long as the overpriced roses stay upright.

Studies consistently reveal that being married is associated with longer survival, so it behooves us to keep the love alive if we want to stay that way, too. (Researchers focus on wedded couples, but let’s assume the life-elongating benefits apply to committed relationships as well. Anything longer than a Tinder flame, for sure.)

One more round of impressive stats: married people are 2.5 times more likely to be alive 15 years after a coronary bypass, and happily married people are 3.2 times as likely to still be around. Even a less-happy marriage is protective of health, it seems.

Here’s what the relationship experts say about marriages that don’t work and do work:

Things not to do if you want your relationship (and life) to stay alive:

  • Whining, defensiveness, and stubbornness during arguments are three aspects that researchers say foreshadow divorce.
  • Avoiding conflict — even with the short-term gain in satisfaction of pretending you’re not seething about everything — means you’ll pay a long-term price as a couple. Conflict appears to be a marriage make-or-breaker… if you confront conflict and expresses dissatisfaction productively, it bonds you two kids together. If conflict isn’t handled well, it becomes a shitshow where stress rises, and overall life satisfaction dips because of the lack of marital satisfaction.
  • Obvious things like cheating on your partner with their more successful younger sibling, eating the last row of Oreos, getting a mullet, etc.

Things to definitely do if you want your relationships (and life) to stay alive:

  • The same researchers who predicted divorce by being annoying, always right, and needing to get our own way say that successful marriages are characterized by these three things: humor, affection, and choosing to interpret things in a more generally positive light. Are you giving your partner the benefit of the doubt when they pause to respond to your question about whether you’ve gained weight? Hypothetically speaking?
  • Adhere to the 5:1 ratio — three positive moments for every one negative… at least. This means that for every complaint or criticism that you “share” with your loved one, you’re going to need to give at least five compliments or positive points — not muttered under your breath in hostile rage, either. The relationship researchers who dig into these sorts of ratios agree that the balance of the good moments to the not-so-good moments must at least exceed 1:1 for a relationship to stay alive.

Memento Mori with your partner.

So there we have it: being in a committed relationship is generally better for our physical and emotional health, so staying in that relationship will take less griping and more giggles… less defensiveness and more whoopee hugs… less digging in our heels and more assumptions of positive intent. It’s going to take five moments of goodness to more than offset the odd moment of crappiness. It’s going to take a concerted effort to handle disagreements like champs.

You know what I’m going to recommend above all else? Practicing memento mori with your partner. Remembering that you will both (eventually) die can have a profoundly sobering effect on your relationship, sharpening your appreciation for one another. What would your life be like without your loved one? What would you miss the most? If they passed away next year, what might you regret not doing with them? Not saying to them? Go do those things — or plan for them — now. Go say those things now. Whatever you do, just don’t get a mullet.

Jodi Wellman

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