Happy couples: What's their secret?

What makes some relationships more successful than others? Is it possible to improve your chances of everlasting love or are some relationships doomed from the start? The good news is that, yes, you can learn from happy couples and improve your own relationship by adopting some of their behavioural patterns. Read on to find out which factors distinguish happy couples from unhappy ones:



Happy couples tend to have a similar education, nationality, age, etc. But don't worry if you and your boyfriend aren't from the same country or don't have a similar level of education. The reason why partners in a happy relationship tend to be alike in the above aspects is because those with the same nationality, age or education are more likely to share the same values and want the same things in life. As long as your values match, the other factors are less important.


Happy couples tend to have similar levels of these three personality factors:

  • OPENNESS = how interested you are in new experiences, art, travel, unusual ideas
  • CONSCIENTIOUSNESS = organized and efficient vs. spontaneous and careless
  • AGREEABLENESS = how much you value social harmony and avoid conflict

It does not seem to matter whether partners have similar levels of:

  • EXTROVERSION = whether you are generally more extroverted or introverted
  • NEUROTICISM = low/high stress tolerance, emotional stability and impulse control

Sometimes partners with different scores of extroversion or neuroticism can complement each other well, e.g. a non-neurotic partner can help his neurotic partner to see things from a different, more relaxed perspective. Extroverts and introverts can balance out each other's energy levels.


Psychologists can predict whether couples will stay together from observing how prevalent these four 'toxic' behaviours are in their everyday interactions:

  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Stonewalling
  • Defensiveness


Wrong. But the ratio between positive and negative interactions is high.

5:1 is ideal

A total lack of fighting tends to be a sign of indifference or that one or both partners are censoring their opinions/feelings.


People in a happy relationship view their partner's actions from an optimistic perspective:

  • Negative actions are attributed to SITUATIONAL FACTORS: "She's late, the traffic must have been horrible."
  • Positive actions are attributed to THE PARTNER'S CHARACTER: "He cooked dinner for us, he is such an awesome boyfriend."


They are more likely to:

  • make plans for the future
  • have lots of rituals
  • have a slightly merged identity (often start sentences with "We...)
  • view their partner in the same category as their closest family members

Happy couples are also more likely to believe that their relationship will last a long time (or even forever) = BIG SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY

If you are already in a relationship, you obviously cannot influence your own or your partner's personality to make you more compatible.  But: You do have the power to  influence the other four factors; you can consciously make an effort to

  1. avoid the four toxic behaviours
  2. maximise positive interactions
  3. not shy away from commitment
  4. emphasize the good characteristics of your partner

Click on the links to read more about self-fulfilling prophecies, optimistic explanatory styles and how to prevent pointless arguments. What do you think makes some relationships more successful than others?