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Five Keys to Keep Your Valentine's Heart

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- If you're hoping that a bouquet of flowers or a heart-shaped box of chocolates might give your relationship a boost this Valentine's Day, you might be disappointed.

A new study suggests that a good relationship depends on daily maintenance: building trust and a common bond between the two of you.

There are a handful of relatively simple things people can do to make a love relationship more mutually satisfying. Researchers distilled years of relationship studies to identify five strategies that help predict positive relationships: openness, positivity, assurances, shared tasks and a common social network.

These approaches should be part of every partner's toolkit for relationship enhancement, said study author Brian Ogolsky, an assistant professor in the human and community development department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The data certainly suggest that people [in successful relationships] do these things in relatively high frequency."

The study also shows that both partners typically want to feel that the other person is making an effort to help ensure the relationship's success. "The thing about maintenance is that you don't always notice when it's happening, but you do notice when it's not being done," Ogolsky said.

The following define the five consistent factors of a good relationship:

  • Openness: talking about feelings and encouraging your partner to do the same
  • Positivity: acting upbeat and cheerful in your daily interactions with each other
  • Assurance: doing things that show you'll be there for the other person and are committed to the relationship
  • Shared tasks: dividing household chores and responsibilities fairly
  • Shared social network: including your partner's family and friends in your activities from time to time

Different stages of a relationship may dictate which of the strategies needs more emphasis, Ogolsky said. "Early on in relationships, people are very hungry for information, wondering 'Is this person into me?' and needing more assurance. Over time and with more commitment, that switches to more of an interest in maintaining the relationship like an investment," he explained.

Ogolsky said there has been a lot of focus in relationship research and the media on the more problematic issues in relationships -- such as the rising divorce rate -- but he was particularly interested in looking at the other side of the equation: what facilitates a healthy relationship.

The research team analyzed 35 studies that included more than 12,000 participants, identifying key terms related to successful relationships. They gave more weight in the total analysis to the research with the greatest number of participants, and focused on factors that were tied to certain behaviors in the relationship. The study appeared recently in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

One expert had concerns about the research. Lara Kammrath, an assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C., pointed out that the study only showed correlations. "So, it could totally be the case that people who are happy in their relationships do these things, but it doesn't mean doing these things makes your relationship better," she said.

Yet Kammrath noted that correlational studies can be useful in helping people diagnose their own relationships. "If these aren't happening, it probably means your relationship is pretty distressed," she said. "You might want to start trying them."

Kammrath said it would be interesting to know whether these five relationship strategies feel like work to people. "In a really great relationship, it doesn't feel like effort at all, but is just rewarding and satisfying," she said. "When you're in a good relationship, there's actually no effort involved; you do these things even when you're really tired."

As for Valentine's Day, Kammrath said presents of any kind turn out to be the least important factor in relationship satisfaction. "Instead, being verbally affectionate, sharing your thoughts, giving your time -- these turn out to be more valued than gifts."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about healthy relationships.

SOURCES: Brian Ogolsky, Ph.D., assistant professor, human and community development department, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Lara Kammrath, Ph.D., assistant professor, psychology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, online

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