Evidence suggests there are 4 key features of relationship well-being.

Sure, no relationship is perfect, but how “not perfect” is acceptable in a potential long-term relationship? If you’re datingyour best friend, but there’s not much passion, is that close enough to perfect? Or if you love spending time with your partner, but some of your goals or habits just aren’t in line…how much does that matter?

In other words, how do you know if your current relationship is the one that you’re looking for, or if you should move on?

Deciding if a relationship is right for you can be filled with uncertainty, in part because relationships are so complex. A dynamic emerges between two people in a long-term relationship: An “us” forms at the intersection of “me” and “you.” This dynamic, this “us,” reflects each partner’s personality, expectations, and behaviors. Further, each partner’s thoughts and actions affect the other’s. Sometimes this influence is evenly distributed between partners, but sometimes it’s unbalanced. Finally, relationships operate within a social context, adding another dimension to an already complicated experience. The “shoulds” of who to love and how to love can be a part of the puzzle.

Theresa E DiDonato Ph.D.Theresa E DiDonato Ph.D. is a social psychologist and associate professor at Loyola University Maryland. Her research interests focus on different aspects of romantic relationships, from factors that contribute to romantic attraction (e.g., humor) and relationship satisfaction (e.g., forgiveness) to how the self-concept changes in relationship participation or dissolution.

Editor: Saad Shaheed

One way to evaluate whether your long-term relationship is right for you, even if it’s not perfect, is to know how scholars consider relationship well-being. What factors are the most important dimensions of relationship quality? Knowing which dimensions stand out as critical from a scientific perspective can give grounding to an assessment of your own relationship.

Hassenbrauck and Fehr (2002) tried to get at the heart of what relationship quality is in a series of studies that assessed numerous aspects of relationships. They considered pretty much every feature that might contribute to relationship quality, asking participants to respond to over 60 seemingly critical features of relationship success. For example:

  • Talking to each other.
  • Tenderness.
  • Having fun.
  • Forgiveness.
  • Longing for each other.
  • Similar interests.
  • Maintaining individuality.
  • Mutual goals.
  • Sexual satisfaction.
  • Not taking each other for granted.

Analysis of these features revealed four critical dimensions of relationship quality. In other words, relationship well-being boils down to these four dimensions:

1. Intimacy: The warm closeness that develops between two people who listen to each other, trust each other, and care for each other appears to be a core element to relationship well-being.

2. Agreement: This is like compatibility; how much overlap partners share in their likes and dislikes, future goals, and habits appears crucial for predicting happy relationships.

3. Independence: Relationships are characterized by interdependence, but independence is important too. Couples thrive when each partner feels like he or she has autonomy and freedom, and can maintain his or her individuality while participating in the relationship.

4.  A physical, sexual component is a distinguishing feature of romantic relationships, compared to traditional friend relationships. As such, it shouldn’t be a surprise that sexuality and sexual satisfaction is a primary dimension of relationship quality.Sexuality:

The authors argue that these features together comprise a prototype of a high-quality relationship (Hassebrauck & Fehr, 2002). Might it be useful as a standard against which to evaluate your own relationship?

In their final study, Hassebrauck and Fehr (2002) determined the rate at which married couples see their own partnership along these dimensions of intimacy, agreement, independence, and sexuality. They then compared these couples’ judgments against other big markers of relationship success and stability, such as commitment and love.

If relationships are going to work in the long run, do they need high scores on these dimensions?

Results suggested that people can judge their own relationships against the prototype set up by these four dimensions. When they do, they get a sense of their own relationship’s potential. Couples who evaluated their relationships as high in intimacy, agreement, independence, and sexuality tended to have relationships characterized by more commitment and more love.

In sum, people can always try to evaluate their own relationships, but using the right criteria can make those evaluations more useful. Considering these dimensions may be a step in the right direction.

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