Feeling exhausted by the constant advice to “communicate with your partner? ”Every expert says the same thing: just talk it out; everything will be fine. Happily ever after comes from conversations… or does it?
New Advice and Good News
Communication matters, but we’re not here to give you the same advice. Instead, we have good news: research shows that healthy communication isn’t the best or the only way to achieve relationship nirvana.
Relationship guru Dr. Robert Epstein held a study (called the “Epstein Love Competencies Inventory” test) that assessed relationship skills for couples.
The study cross-examined each partner’s skills, using their strengths, weaknesses, and happiness to determine which areas were most important.
Epstein discovered seven critical areas for happiness:
- Stress management
- Life skills
- Knowledge of partners
- Self-management skills
- Reported happiness
Surprisingly, communication didn’t win the coveted number one spot. Instead, life skills and self-management won.
Epstein’s test showed that communicative couples were more satisfied, but couples who reported knowing their partner well and having positive self-management life skills were even more satisfied.
This suggests that relationships benefit more from each individual’s ability to live a healthy and meaningful life, rather than simple communication alone.
Self-Sustainability Equals Happiness
The idea that self-sustainability and self-management contributes to healthy relationships isn’t new. In fact, couples born before 1960, who were less likely to divorce, deeply understood the need for practical, everyday mundane life skills in marriage.
Epstein’s test confirms that basic skills, like being able to find and hold down a job, manage your money, and handle stress are important. Capable partners contribute more and work out problems faster than those who aren’t self-sustained.
Getting to Know Your Partner
Not knowing your partner well was also a major red flag for relationship destruction. Simple strategies like remembering birthdays, favorite foods, and even how your partner likes their coffee or where they leave the car keys were associated with happiness, too.
Aligning on “big ticket” dealbreakers (like whether to have children, where to live, or what religion to follow) also impacted happiness. Couples often find it virtually impossible to reconcile, even after years of marriage.
Life Skills are Relationship Skills
Lisa Neff, who works for the University of Texas at Austin as a couples researcher, explained that, “Communication skills are necessary, but they’re not sufficient when couples are under stress.”
If you lack the life and social skills to handle yourself alone, chances are you’ll struggle to have healthy, satisfying relationships. Love and support yourself first, and you’ll better equip yourself to love and support someone else.
Self-Sacrifice Isn’t Always Best
Life can put immense pressure on even the closest, most loving relationships. That’s why 50 percent of all relationships end in divorce.
No matter where you are in your relationship story — married, unmarried, divorced, dating, whatever — the best advice is also the simplest. Become a better you, improve your own life skills, and seek partners who do the same. Improve your offer and your own happiness at the same time; the rest will follow.