Rules for a happy relationship

Good Health
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Rules for a happy relationship. Image: Getty
The research says that couples who share a bed experience 50 percent more sleep disruption.
Good Health
Brought to you by Australian Good Health magazine

Think you know what makes for a healthy relationship? Karen Fittall says the latest research might surprise you.

You've always believed: that sleeping in separate beds is a bad sign.

In fact: sleeping together might be doing you more harm than good. The research says: that couples who share a bed experience 50 percent more sleep disruption — due to anything from snoring to having a partner who's a restless sleeper — than those who sleep separately.

Meanwhile, a study from Austria reports that bed-sharing leads to impaired mental ability the following day because of disturbed sleep, particularly for males. And that's despite the fact that the men in question actually believed that they had slept better with their partner alongside them.

Why does it matter? Not only can lack of sleep wreak havoc with your health, American researchers say it also directly affects how happy and satisfied you feel in your relationship.

"Certainly if you talk to the partner of someone who snores seriously, or has sleep apnoea, they'll tell you that it affects the quality of their sleep," says Greg Roach, a sleep researcher from the University of South Australia. "And likewise, anecdotally, we know that after sleep apnoea has been diagnosed and treated, it's not just the 'patient' who gets a better night's sleep, but also their partner.

"But I think an important message to get across is that if you or your partner's sleeping habits have become so disruptive that you can't sleep together anymore, it's important to seek help."

Sleeping apart will only help the person who doesn't snore — the snorer needs to be assessed and treated for sleep apnoea.

You've always believed: the fact he doesn't like the same movies as you spells a 'disconnect'.

In fact: if he refuses to watch another romantic comedy, it might just save your relationship.

The research says: that classic chick flicks such as Notting Hill and You've Got Mail have a lot to answer for in terms of encouraging unrealistic expectations surrounding love and relationships. That's the finding of research conducted by psychologists at Scotland's Heriot-Watt University.

"Marriage counsellors often see couples who believe that sex should always be perfect and if someone is meant to be with you then they will know what you want without you needing to communicate it," says the study's author Dr Bjarne Holmes.

"We now have some emerging evidence that suggests popular media plays a role in perpetuating these ideas in people's minds. The problem is that while most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some of us are still more influenced by media portrayals than we realise."

You've always believed: that feeling increasingly irritated by your partner means you're falling out of love.

In fact: it's a sign that you're closer than ever. The research says: that viewing your partner more negatively as the years go by isn't only normal, it's actually a positive sign. That's according to a study out of the University of Michigan, led by research fellow Kira Birditt.

"As we age, and become closer and more comfortable with one another, it could be that we're more able to express ourselves to each other," she says. "In other words, it's possible that negativity is a normal aspect of close relationships that include a great deal of daily contact."

But don't panic if the irritation levels become too much to bear — apart from being a sign of closeness, it's also true that things even out again eventually, with adults aged 60+ reporting the least amount of negativity or conflict within their relationship with their significant other.

On the flip side, research has proven that some traditional beliefs about relationships do ring true.

  • A couple who uses the "we" word = a couple that's more in sync. And much better able to resolve conflict. That's the advice from California-based researchers who discovered that couples who emphasise their separateness by regularly using words such as 'I', 'me' and 'you' instead of 'we' are more likely to be unhappy in their relationship.
  • A couple who splits the housework = a happy couple. That's according to a Canadian study, which found that if each partner takes on between 40 to 60 percent of the housework and childcare, as well as sharing some responsibility for earning money, they wind up happier.
  • A couple who has more in common is more likely to last the distance. Opposites might attract but in the long run it takes a lot more than love alone to keep a couple together. Last year Australian researchers released a study that found how differences in age, desire for children, work and consumption of alcohol and cigarettes were the biggest factors that increased the likelihood of a relationship breakdown.

For the full story, see the May issue of Australian Good Health. Get a great subscription deal on New Zealand Good Health magazine at

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