When Harvard scientists tracked 268 men for more than 75 years to figure out what makes for a good life, their findings could be summed up in just five words, according to the project's founder: "Happiness is love. Full stop."
Few of us would argue (nor would we be surprised by the many other studies showing a strong link between a strong partnership and career success.) Yet many of us struggle to find and keep love. Why is that?
Psychologists, therapists, and unhappy couples have devoted countless hours to this question, but at least one woman claims to have a definitive answer. In her TEDx talk Stony Brook University psychologist Joanne Davila explains how her research team waded through mountains of studies on relationships to pinpoint three common skills that mattered whatever the school, style, or methodology of the research.
Unless the partners master these skills, relationships can't thrive, her team concluded. But learn them early and you'll achieve what Dabila terms "romantic competence," which puts you on the right path to finding and keeping a partner who will bring you joy (and success).
Handily for the time pressed, Davila outlined these three skills for the TED Ideas blog recently, or if you want a deeper dive, check out her complete talk at the end of this post.
It's hard to change a behavior if you don't understand where it comes from. That's what makes this first skill so important. Insight encompasses both being aware of your emotions and the emotions of others and the ability to analyze where they're coming from.
That helps you realize you're not snapping at your partner because he or she is being annoying, but because you had a bad day at work. It also helps you recognize patterns that can make or break a relationship. "With insight, you'll be able to anticipate the positive and negative consequences of your behavior," Davila explains.
It takes insight to understand just how much your partner appreciates you making them their morning cup of coffee, or to forgive their constant lateness because you understand it's about their time perception and not respect.
It should be a no brainer that both people in a relationship are equally important with equally important needs, but the reality is it's all too easy for humans to get stuck in their own self-centered perspective. That's why you need mutuality if you want a relationship to succeed.
Mutuality "lets you factor both people's needs into decisions that you make about your relationship," says Davila. It's understanding your partner's 5 a.m. gym habit when you'd rather cuddle in bed, or discussing not only the positive career impact of that new, great job offer, but also how it will affect your time together and interpersonal dynamic.
3. Emotion regulation
If you know what you both need and you care about what you both need, you're only two thirds or the way down the road to a successful relationship. The final piece of the journey is actually being able to give each other what you need by controlling your emotions.
"Emotion regulation is about regulating your feelings in response to things that happen in your relationship," Davila says. "With emotion regulation, you'll be able to keep your emotions calm and to keep things that happen in your relationship in perspective."
Emotion regulation is fighting the urge to bitch when your partner's alarm goes off or pushing back against anxiety when they don't text you back right away. Even if you know you should do these things, if you don't have the emotional control to accomplish them, that knowledge won't count for much.
Master all three of these skills, however, and according to the latest psychology, you'll be well on your way to finding lasting love.