Committed, close, happy relationships have a positive impact on longevity, wellbeing, productivity and immune function. These relationships are beneficial and make life worth living.

So how do we become a part of a happy and committed romantic relationship? This is a complex question. Luckily for us years of research has looked at this very thing.

Friendship: a relationship founded on strong friendship means the couple are more likely to cope with the ups and downs of a long term relationship. This means knowing your partner well – their likes, dislikes and little personality quirks. Being aware and sensitive to your partner’s inner world, knowing what is making them happy or what is stressing them out. Maintaining fondness, empathy and respect towards your partner.

When watching a couple who have a strong friendship foundation you will often see them making small gestures to one and other, that invite connection – even if they are doing different activities. So, one partner may laugh out loud at a youtube clip – the other partner will be interested in what they are laughing at. Playfulness and humour are often part of these relationships too.

Conflict: Criticising, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling aren’t a major feature in healthy committed relationships. You can see couples in these relationships tending to have a positive attitude to each other that will override any natural downs. So even when one partner behaves in a way that is momentarily experienced as negative by the other, like playing on x-box when you had planned to spend time together, the positive attitude towards each other helps move through this momentary negative experience.

There is also the repair after conflict. This could be a partner apologising for hurting another’s feelings, conceding a point or using some appropriate humour: “I’m sorry I was on the X-box for so long, and you felt hurt – you know I’m crazy for you” (sings Crazy for You by Madonna or something more timely!)

Shared Meaning: This means the couple working to create meaning and purpose to their relationship. Partners support each other and help make each other’s dreams come true. The couple build up shared traditions, roles and rituals within their relationship.

Now you know the benefits and ingredients to a healthy committed relationship. How will you use this knowledge? What does this make you think about current or future relationships?

Dr Kerry Ashton-Shaw