Satisfaction in intimate relationships describes the overall well-being and happiness you feel in the relationship and sharing your life with your partner. The more beneficial the relationship (e.g. emotionally, financially), the more satisfied we are.
Factors that influence relationship satisfaction.
Cognitions – our thoughts about the relationship and our partner’s behavior are important in evaluating whether it is beneficial or not. If our partner displays negative behavior, this may be attributed to their personal characteristics or to circumstances surrounding our partner. In intimate relationships, when individuals attribute negative behavior to their partner’s personal characteristics rather to circumstances, is shown to be associated with a reduction in relationship satisfaction. This dysfunctional way of thinking occurs often in problematic relationships, where partners cannot discuss their problems and interpret their partner’s behavior as the result of a problematic personality. Also in play are the individual’s feelings about these behaviors. Individuals who display less affect or more negative affect have been shown to have reduced relationship satisfaction.
Interactions between partners affect how satisfied they are with their relationship. When both partners interact with one another smoothly, they will be in sync, like a well-tuned watch. When interaction is negative, with criticism and confrontation, it leads to both partners’ withdrawal and dissatisfaction.
Abuse is associated with lower relationship satisfaction. Individuals who experience abuse in their relationship are more likely to report a reduction in their relationship satisfaction.
Social support is beneficial, and research has shown that partners who provide good social support to each other experience higher levels of relationship satisfaction.
Often, someone’s satisfaction in their relationship is affected by the personality characteristics of their partner. Research often mentions personality traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experiences. People in a relationship with a partner low in conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness often complain that their partners are neglectful, unreliable, jealous, possessive, or abusive. These people also report reduced relationship satisfaction.
Infidelity (cheating) can cause problems in relationships. When discovered, infidelities will break the trust between partners, damage their commitment, and ultimately will emotionally drain them, transforming love into hate. Infidelity has been associated with lower relationship satisfaction.
Interesting research suggests that relationship satisfaction is related to self-esteem. In a recent study, researchers examined the role of self-esteem in relationship satisfaction, tracking 885 couples over 12 years in the first study, and 6,116 couples over 15 years in the second study. The researchers found that self-esteem was correlated with relationship satisfaction, and as the self-esteem of each partner changed, so too did the couple’s satisfaction with their relationship. At this point, researchers are still examining the way self-esteem affects relationship satisfaction, but the theory is that people with low self-esteem might tend to think that their partners view them as negatively as they view themselves, and in response to this, they may attempt to withdraw, resulting in a reduction in relationship satisfaction. Furthermore, theories also suggest that people who feel secure in a relationship are more likely to experience lower levels of relationship anxiety and will not employ avoidance strategies, resulting in greater relationship satisfaction. The same goes for people who feel emotionally secure.
Signs that partners are in an unhappy relationship:
- They have nothing to say to each other.
- They aren’t having sex anymore.
- They are physically together, but mentally and emotionally, they are disconnected.
- They are preoccupied with other people’s needs and problems.
- They have distanced themselves from each other.
- They want different things.
- They don’t argue anymore.
- They don’t listen to each other.
- They fantasize about having an affair.
- They prefer to spend time alone than with each other.
- They don’t have a desire to work on the relationship.
Tips for improving relationship satisfaction.
If you are reading this, you have probably begun to feel unsatisfied in your relationship. You and your partner haven’t been spending time together like you used to. It feels like there is distance between the two of you, and your interactions have frozen. Feeling a bit unsatisfied in a relationship doesn’t mean that something has gone wrong. Sometimes, there are just too many stressors in the relationship reducing your happiness. There are also times when two partners have to invest in each other in order to improve their relationship. Here are a few tips to help you improve your relationship satisfaction and be happy again.
Get to know each other again.
When people are dating, they spend a lot of time getting to know each other. After they have been in the relationship for years, they think they still know each other, but people change over time. Being committed in a long-term relationship or marriage is a process of continuously getting to know each other again and again over the years. Finding the time to learn about each other again will not only break the boredom both of you may feel; you will also reignite interest and emotions and learn if something about your partner has changed over the years. Getting to know each other can take the form of date nights, movie nights, or simply romantic discussions.
Spend time together.
One way to bring back satisfaction and happiness into a relationship is for partners to make time for each other. Partners who are absorbed in patterns drain their relationship. It is important for partners to spend time together and be fully present with each other. Partners can easily plan vacations or activities that will help them ignite positive emotions again.
Don’t stay miserable.
When satisfaction in a relationship wanes over time, partners may start blaming each other. Any time partners face this reduction in satisfaction in their relationship, it is their responsibility to take a look at their life and question what role they may have in the situation. Instead of staying miserable, each partner can take responsibility for becoming a better and happier person. Partners can work on themselves and make the necessary changes. At this point, they need to ask themselves what changes they can make to their own behavior or what positive changes would benefit their relationship.
Learn to forgive.
No matter what partners face in their relationship, it is important that they are both willing to forgive each other’s shortcomings. Forgiveness is the only way to move forward in relationships.
Find the positives.
When partners feel that they are not satisfied with their relationship, its important to focus on the positives and feel grateful for them.
Partners who love each other unconditionally make each other feel secure and more satisfied in their relationship. If partners make an effort to continuously make each other feel appreciated, they will ensure that their relationship is well-balanced and will feel more satisfied with their life.
Be loyal and committed to each other.
Partners who are loyal and committed to each other show that they value each other’s feelings. Being loyal and committed is about listening to what your partner has to say. Furthermore, doing things after discussing them with each other makes both partners feel involved in the relationship. Partners who are selfish and do things without consulting each other will not be satisfied with their relationship.
Improve your sex life.
It is true that many relationships and marriages fail because of a lack of sex. Sex brings partners together, and when sex is lacking, levels of intimacy drop, too. If partners want to keep each other satisfied, they must make sure that they give sex a high priority in the relationship. Sex is a great way to connect and makes both partners feel loved and appreciated. The emotional and physical connection that comes with sex is important to ensuring that both partners are satisfied with the relationship.
Reading this, you might be feeling that something is wrong with your relationship. How you feel in your relationship right now isn’t how you felt in the beginning, and it isn’t how you will always feel in the future. Relationships are interactions between two people and are changing constantly. Love is always evolving; emotions change, as well as levels of satisfaction. Satisfaction in your relationship is dependent on many factors, as we discussed in this article. To ensure that satisfaction will stay as high as possible, you can start by trying the tips we’ve shared. Finally, if you feel that your problems are out of your control and are still reducing your relationship satisfaction, seek a relationship coach. A professional can help you and your partner find the reasons for your dissatisfaction. Whether lower relationship satisfaction is the result of an underlying issue that constantly affects your relationship or is caused by outside stressors, relationship coaching will help you acknowledge how you and your partner can transform your relationship in your own way that will be beneficial and satisfactory for both of you.
Bradbury, T. N., Fincham, F. D., & Beach, S. R. H. (2000). Research on the nature and determinants of marital satisfaction: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 964-980.
Erol, R. Y., & Orth, U. (2014). Development of self-esteem and relationship satisfaction in couples: Two longitudinal studies. Developmental psychology, 50(9), 2291–2303. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037370. Shackelford, T. K., & Buss, D. M. (2000). Marital satisfaction and spousal cost-infliction. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 917-928.