If you want your relationship to last, try focusing on your future happiness together. That’s the key finding from a series of studies from the University of Maryland.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that people who predicted that they would be satisfied with their relationship in the future were more committed to their partners and treated them with more kindness in their day-to-day interactions.
To test this rose-tinted view of relationships, the study’s lead researcher, Edward Lemay, ran a series of tests.
To begin with, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their current relationship that included questions about relationship satisfaction, how invested they are in the relationship and whether they think there are better alternatives to the relationship they’re currently in.
Respondents then answered questions about their forecasted relationship satisfaction including, “I expect that I will be happy with this relationship in the future,” and “I expect that I will experience more problems in this relationship in the future.”
Results showed that those who envisaged a happy future for their relationship were more committed to their partners in the present – over and above the other factors.
Lemay then conducted a bigger study, asking 200 couples to document their feelings about their relationship in a daily diary for a two-week period.
As with the first study, couples with high hopes for the future were more committed to each other on a daily basis. “Daily forecasted satisfaction,” Lemay writes, “predicted greater commitment the following day.”
In the last study, couples were assessed once and then again 12 months later, using similar questionnaires. Lemay found that those who were more optimistic about the future of their relationship during the first assessment actually became more committed to one another over the year that followed.
To ensure that the results weren’t simply based on self-report, friends of the couples, who were also questioned as part of the study, agreed that those with high hopes for the future seemed more committed to one another.
Lemay also filmed the couples arguing about something they disagreed on, and independent raters said the optimistic forecasters had nicer, less-destructive fights.
“People are on their best behavior when they think this relationship will be a happy one in the future,” Lemay said.
Interestingly, predicting future satisfaction isn’t quite the same as being satisfied currently. You could, for example, be in a long-distance relationship at the moment, but expect that an upcoming move to the same city will boost your relationship happiness levels. According to Lemay’s research, it’s thinking about that happy ending that keeps people committed.
So what to do if you simply aren’t very optimistic or future-focused? Lemay suggests a behavioural hack. Simply think of something you believe will improve the quality of your relationship, like going on a date or vacation together. Do that thing, and you might just start seeing a brighter future for your partnership. The key takeaway, according to Lemay, is believe you’ll live happily ever after, and you probably will.