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12 Science-Based Tips On How To Maintain Happy, Lasting Relationships

12 Science-Based Tips On How To Maintain Happy, Lasting Relationships

Have you ever made silly mistakes that ruined great relationships? I can’t be the only one, can I? Well, since then, I’ve read a lot more about the science on how to have happy and long-lasting relationships, whether with romantic partners or family and friends. My wife and I have been together for 18 years, over half my life, and I have a wonderful circle of close friends. I want to share these science-based tips with you to help you avoid those silly mistakes and help your relationships flourish!

1. Be intentional.

Be intentional and figure out the truth about your relationship. Think through all aspects of your relationship—your feelings and thoughts, the other person’s feelings and thoughts, and the external context. If you notice yourself flinching away from a certain aspect of reality, this is the time to double down your focus and really get at the truth. The things you flinch away from, the truths you don’t want to acknowledge to yourself, are likely to be the ones that will most undermine your relationship in the future. It’s better to face the truth squarely in the face right now and address it rather than let it sabotage your relationship in the long run.

2. Avoid failing at their mind.

One of the biggest dangers in close relationships is assuming the other person is exactly the same as you in their feelings and thoughts, and thus failing at their mind. This is something that’s so easy to flinch away from, as our emotional self just doesn’t want to accept that the person we’re so close to is actually different from us—sometimes very different. I know I made this mistake, and it cost me dearly in the past. So how to avoid it?

3. Use Tell Culture.

Use Tell Culture! Tell Culture is a communication strategy where you are open and honest with close people in your life about your feelings and thoughts, about what’s going on with you, lowering your private barrier and being vulnerable and authentic. Tell them information about yourself that you think they would want to know.

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For example, if you want a hug, you should tell the other person that you would enjoy a hug. However, for Tell Culture to work, it’s really important for you not to expect that the other person will hug you. You are responsible for telling them about your needs and desires, and they are then free to act as they choose based on their own needs and desires.

4. Remove communication barriers.

For open and honest communication to work, you need to remove communication barriers. Figure out your individual communication preferences and then compromise on something that works well for both of you.

5. Practice emotional attunement.

As you communicate with each other, don’t listen only to what the other person is saying, also listen to the emotions underneath the words. Notice whether the other person seems stressed, frazzled, sad, frustrated, confused, pleased, glad, joyful, etc.

Pay attention to the tone of the voice, body language, and what is not being said as well as the content of the words. Such emotional attunement will level up your ability to understand the other person, and respond in ways that lead to happy and long-lasting relationships.

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6. Check in on your relationships.

This is a magic-bullet solution to so many relationship problems! Schedule systematic meetings to talk about the state of your relationship and what can be improved. For the process, you can follow this science-based questionnaire or come up with your own approach to the relationship check-in.

For example, my wife and I have a relationship check-in every two weeks. We first talk about what we appreciated most about each other during the last two weeks. Then we discuss what can be improved in our relationship, and how to do so. We then finish up with gratitude to each other for doing the relationship check-in and have some delicious chocolate to reward ourselves. It’s done wonders for improving our relationship!

7. Trust others.

All of these strategies will help you build up trust, what research shows is key to having happy, lasting relationships. Always keep in the back of your mind a personal evaluation of the level of trust in the relationship. How much do you trust the other person to act in ways that both match your mental model of that person? How much do you trust that person to have your back?

If you want an intentional relationship, do things to build up trust and gather information about the other person’s trustworthiness. Exhibit vulnerability and openness, share secrets, and be generous in your offers to compromise. If the other person shows themselves trustworthy, then be more committed to the relationship. If they do not, then re-evaluate your own level of commitment, as the relationship likely will not work in the long term.

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8. Respect boundaries and privacy.

A key aspect of showing trust is allowing each other to set boundaries and permitting privacy. Technological developments make it so easy for us to track each other and to be in constant communication. However, permitting each other to have a private space and avoiding pushing the other person to do things they would prefer not to do helps a lot in creating sustaining happiness in relationships. Respecting boundaries and permitting privacy will do wonders for building up mutual trust!

9. Have healthy conflicts.

Surprise, conflicts can be healthy in relationships! If you go into a relationship expecting never to fight, you’ll lose out on great relationships because the first fight might well lead to the end of the relationship. Instead, learn strategies for healthy conflict resolution, and talk about them with your relationship partner before the fact.

Start any conflicts by highlighting how you care about the other person and the relationship. Talk about both the facts and how you feel about them. Avoid the blame game and instead be as generous as you can be in interpreting the other person’s actions. Be open to changing your mind if you discover you made the mistake and apologize quickly and profusely. Avoid focusing on the past and instead orient toward better behavior in the future. At the end of any conflict, focus on reconnecting and rebuilding emotional bonds strained by the conflict. My wife and I found these techniques to be so helpful in resolving tensions between us!

10. Meet your own goals.

Remember that you are in the relationship for yourself, not the other person. So meet your own goals first in any relationship. Be intentional and consider what you want from the relationship as you evaluate it in your own mind and heart. Don’t allow the other person’s needs and desires to overwhelm yours. Play by the rules of Tell Culture and be honest and open with the other person in the relationship about your needs and desires, and encourage that person to be honest and open with you. Otherwise, you risk building up resentment and frustration both for yourself and the other person in the relationship, and subverting the possibility of a happy and long-lasting relationship.

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11. Compromise.

Balance getting your needs met with meeting the other person’s needs. Seek a mutually beneficial compromise on any areas of disagreement. The ability to compromise is key to happy and lasting relationships. Today’s society emphasizes individuality, but for any relationship to work, we need to get out of the self-centered shell and put ourselves in the shoes of the other person, understanding their perspective, thoughts, and feelings. That makes compromise much easier! My wife and I make compromises for each other all the time, big and small, and that’s how we keep our relationship strong.

12. Don’t fight against change or diversity.

People change and relationships change all the time. This is not something to mourn, but just a fact of life, to be acknowledged and celebrated. Sometimes, relationship needs to become more diverse for both people to remain happy. So consider the possibilities of non-traditional relationships such as polyamory and others. At other times, people who were right for each other earlier are no longer right for each other. To ensure mutual happiness, it’s important to let each other go at that stage. The key is to be intentional and pursue your own goals in any relationship you are in.

I hope these science-based tips help you have happy, lasting relationships!

Featured photo credit: Love is in the air via flickr.com

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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