How to Have a Better Relationship

Good relationships don’t happen overnight. They take commitment, compromise, forgiveness and most of all — effort. Here we offer the latest in relationship science, expert advice, fun quizzes and helpful tips to help you build a stronger bond with your partner.,

Can you spot a good relationship? Of course nobody knows what really goes on between any couple, but decades of scientific research into love, sex and relationships have taught us that a number of behaviors can predict when a couple is on solid ground or headed for troubled waters. Good relationships don’t happen overnight. They take commitment, compromise, forgiveness and most of all — effort. Keep reading for the latest in relationship science, fun quizzes and helpful tips to help you build a stronger bond with your partner.

How Much Sex Are You Having?

Let’s start with the good news. Committed couples really do have more sex than everyone else. Don’t believe it? While it’s true that single people can regale you with stories of crazy sexual episodes, remember that single people also go through long dry spells. A March 2017 report found that 15 percent of men and 27 percent of women reported they hadn’t had sex in the past year. And 9 percent of men and 18 percent of women say they haven’t had sex in five years. The main factors associated with a sexless life are older age and not being married. So whether you’re having committed or married sex once a week, once a month or just six times a year, the fact is that there’s still someone out there having less sex than you. And if you’re one of those people NOT having sex, this will cheer you up: Americans who are not having sex are just as happy as their sexually-active counterparts.

But Who’s Counting?

Even though most people keep their sex lives private, we do know quite a bit about people’s sex habits. The data come from a variety of sources, including the General Social Survey, which collects information on behavior in the United States, and the International Social Survey Programme, a similar study that collects international data, and additional studies from people who study sex like the famous Kinsey Institute. A recent trend is that sexual frequency is declining among millennials, likely because they are less likely than earlier generations to have steady partners.

Based on that research, here’s some of what we know about sex:

  • The average adult has sex 54 times a year.
  • The average sexual encounter lasts about 30 minutes.
  • About 5 percent of people have sex at least three times a week.
  • People in their 20s have sex more than 80 times per year.
  • People in their 40s have sex about 60 times a year.
  • Sex drops to 20 times per year by age 65.
  • After the age of 25, sexual frequency declines 3.2 percent annually.
  • After controlling for age and time period, those born in the 1930s had sex the most often; people born in the 1990s (millennials) had sex the least often.
  • About 20 percent of people, most of them widows, have been celibate for at least a year.
  • The typical married person has sex an average of 51 times a year.
  • “Very Happy” couples have sex, on average, 74 times a year.
  • Married people under 30 have sex about 112 times a year; single people under 30 have sex about 69 times a year.
  • Married people in their 40s have sex 69 times a year; single people in their 40s have sex 50 times a year.
  • Active people have more sex.
  • People who drink alcohol have 20 percent more sex than teetotalers.
  • On average, extra education is associated with about a week’s worth of less sex each year.

Why does sex decline in marriage? It’s a combination of factors — sometimes it’s a health issue, the presence of children, boredom or unhappiness in the relationship. But a major factor is age. One study found sexual frequency declines 3.2 percent a year after the age of 25. The good news is that what married couples lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Data from the National Health and Social Life Survey found that married couples have more fulfilling sex than single people.

The No-Sex Marriage

Why do some couples sizzle while others fizzle? Social scientists are studying no-sex marriages for clues about what can go wrong in relationships.

It’s estimated that about 15 percent of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the last six months to one year. Some sexless marriages started out with very little sex. Others in sexless marriages say childbirth or an affair led to a slowing and eventually stopping of sex. People in sexless marriages are generally less happy and more likely to have considered divorce than those who have regular sex with their spouse or committed partner.

If you have a low-sex or no-sex marriage, the most important step is to see a doctor. A low sex drive can be the result of a medical issues (low testosterone, erectile dysfunction, menopause or depression) or it can be a side effect of a medication or treatment. Some scientists speculate that growing use of antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil, which can depress the sex drive, may be contributing to an increase in sexless marriages.

While some couples in sexless marriages are happy, the reality is that the more sex a couple has, the happier they are together. It’s not easy to rekindle a marriage that has gone without sex for years, but it can be done. If you can’t live in a sexless marriage but you want to stay married, see a doctor, see a therapist and start talking to your partner.

Here are some of the steps therapists recommend to get a sexless marriage back in the bedroom:

  1. Talk to each other about your desires.
  2. Have fun together and share new experiences to remind yourself how you fell in love.
  3. Hold hands. Touch. Hug.
  4. Have sex even if you don’t want to. Many couples discover that if they force themselves to have sex, soon it doesn’t become work and they remember that they like sex. The body responds with a flood of brain chemicals and other changes that can help.

Remember that there is no set point for the right amount of sex in a marriage. The right amount of sex is the amount that makes both partners happy.

Let’s look at what couples had in common. Both partners wanted seduction, instructions and experimentation.

The main difference for men and women is where sexual desire begins. Men wanted their wives to initiate sex more often and be less inhibited in the bedroom. But for women, behavior outside the bedroom also mattered. They wanted their partner to be warmer, helpful in their lives, and they wanted love and compliments both in and out of the bedroom.

Stay Generous

Are you generous toward your partner? How often do you express affection? Or do small things for your partner like bring them coffee? Men and women who score the highest on the generosity scale are far more likely to report “very happy” marriages, according to research from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project.

Use Your Relationship for Personal Growth

Finding a partner who makes your life more interesting is an important factor in sustaining a long relationship.

Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, developed a series of questions for couples: How much has being with your partner resulted in your learning new things? How much has knowing your partner made you a better person?

“People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr. Lewandowski says. “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”

Be Decisive

How thoughtfully couples make decisions can have a lasting effect on the quality of their romantic relationships. Couples who are decisive before marriage — intentionally defining their relationships, living together and planning a wedding — appear to have better marriages than couples who simply let inertia carry them through major transitions.

“Making decisions and talking things through with partners is important,” said Galena K. Rhoades, a relationship researcher at the University of Denver and co-author of the report. “When you make an intentional decision, you are more likely to follow through on that.”

While the finding may seem obvious, the reality is that many couples avoid real decision-making. Many couples living together, for instance, did not sit down and talk about cohabitation. Often one partner had begun spending more time at the other’s home, or a lease expired, forcing the couple to formalize a living arrangement.

Showing intent in some form — from planning the first date, to living together, to the wedding and beyond — can help improve the quality of a marriage over all. To learn more, read about the science behind “The Decisive Marriage.”

“At the individual level, know who you are and what you are about, and make decisions when it counts rather than letting things slide,” Dr. Stanley said. “Once you are a couple, do the same thing in terms of how you approach major transitions in your relationship.”

Nurture Friends and Family

Sometimes couples become so focused on the relationship that they forget to invest in their relationships with friends and family. Researchers Naomi Gerstel of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Natalia Sarkisian of Boston College have found that married couples have fewer ties to relatives than the unmarried. They are less likely to visit, call or help out family members, and less likely to socialize with neighbors and friends.

The problem with this trend is that it places an unreasonable burden and strain on the marriage, says Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. “We often overload marriage by asking our partner to satisfy more needs than any one individual can possibly meet,” writes Dr. Coontz. “And if our marriage falters, we have few emotional support systems to fall back on.

To strengthen a marriage, consider asking less of it, suggests Dr. Coontz. That means leaning on other family members and friends for emotional support from time to time. Support your partner’s outside friendships and enjoy the respite from the demands of marriage when you’re not together.

See a Rom-Com

It sounds silly, but research suggests that seeing a sappy relationship movie made in Hollywood can help couples work out problems in the real world. A University of Rochester study found that couples who watched and talked about issues raised in movies like “Steel Magnolias” and “Love Story” were less likely to divorce or separate than couples in a control group. Surprisingly, the “Love Story” intervention was as effective at keeping couples together as two intensive forms of marriage therapy.

Obviously, talking about a movie is not going to solve significant problems in a marriage, but the findings do signal the importance of communication in a marriage and finding opportunities to talk about your differences. “A movie is a nonthreatening way to get the conversation started,” said Ronald D. Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and the lead author of the study.

The best movies to start constructive communication are those that show various highs and lows in a relationship. Additional movies used in the study include “Couples Retreat,” “Date Night,” “Love and Other Drugs” and “She’s Having a Baby.” Avoid movies that idealize relationships like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally.”

Even though some of the recommended movies are funny and not necessarily realistic, the goal is to simply “get a dialogue going,” said Dr. Rogge.

“I believe it’s the depth of the discussions that follow each movie and how much effort and time and introspection couples put into those discussions that will predict how well they do going forward,” said Dr. Rogge.

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