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What makes a successful relationship? This landmark study could have the answer

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Lauren Geall
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Don’t while away the hours on all those personality quizzes and horoscope compatibility tests. According to a landmark new study, the secret to a happy relationship could be a lot more straightforward.

When it comes to searching for a potential new partner, chances are many of us would place quite a lot of weight on someone’s personality. Whether we’re reading about someone on their dating profile, scrolling through their Instagram feed or chatting to them on a first date, the way a person behaves, speaks or acts is enough to make or break a relationship from the very beginning.

However, according to a new landmark study, placing so much weight on a potential partner’s personality probably isn’t the best way to find relationship success in the long run. Instead, the study’s authors have revealed the secret to cultivating a happy, satisfying relationship lies in the very characteristics of the relationship itself.

The study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed the experiences of 11,196 couples. 

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The team of scientists found that the way you think about and perceive your relationship plays a much more important role in the quality of your connection than the individual characteristics of either person in the relationship.

The results of the analysis showed that, at the outset of a relationship, relationship-related characteristics (aka the way you feel about and perceive your relationship) accounts for about 45% of your relationship satisfaction, while a partner’s personality may only account for about 5%. Your own personality and traits account for about 19%.

In the study, relationship-related characteristics included things such as perceived-partner satisfaction (basically, how invested you think your partner is in your relationship), the affection between the two of you, power dynamics and sexual satisfaction. 

A man and a woman in a relationship holding hands as they walk down the street
According to the analysis of 11,196 couples, it's the relationships we build, not the personalities of the people involved, that contribute most to relationship satisfaction.

“Really, it suggests that the person we choose is not nearly as important as the relationship we build,” the study’s lead author, Samantha Joel, told Inverse. 

“The dynamic that you build with someone — the shared norms, the in-jokes, the shared experiences — is so much more than the separate individuals who make up that relationship,” she continues. 

“It really seems that having a great relationship is less about finding the perfect partner or changing your current partner, and more about building that relationship itself – setting up the conditions that will allow the relationship to flourish.”

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Of course, the study acknowledges that the personalities of the two people involved in the relationship do have a role to play in the overall satisfaction: for example, if one or both of you deal with attachment anxiety, or are going through a particularly difficult time in life, it’s likely that your relationship satisfaction is going to be affected.

But for the most part, the study shows that falling head over heels in love with someone on your first date isn’t a sign of a successful relationship. Successful relationships may take work, but taking time to build a strong, positive connection with someone is clearly worth it in the long run.

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