If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to think of a few things your partner could do (or could have done) to improve the relationship. Perhaps they could listen more, for example, or be more attentive?
At CogCo, we wanted to see whether our new platform – ekota – might offer some new answers to the age-old question of what makes a relationship work. The platform allows people to answer a question (in this case ‘what could your partner do to improve your current relationship?’) but also to vote on whether they agree or disagree with responses submitted by others.
A participant might, for instance, agree with people who responded that their partner could ‘stop lying’ and ‘be more engaged’. They might also submit their own response by suggesting that their partner could ‘be more supportive’, which other people would then vote on. This allows a rich range of ideas to be put forward, and for us to see where there is most consensus and disagreement amongst participants.
Perhaps even more interestingly, it also allowed us to see if there was any link between people’s agreement and disagreement with certain responses and their self-assessed relationship satisfaction, which we asked them to rate on a scale from 1 (very unsatisfied) to 7 (very satisfied) before the main ekota study.
We invited 546 people in the UK to participate in this study, letting the discussion evolve over the course of a week as individuals both voted on others’ responses and submitted their own. In total, 12,108 votes were cast on 81 different responses.
Our main finding related to the importance of listening: 74% of our participants agreed that their partner could listen more. But just how important was listening for people’s relationship satisfaction?
Our results showed that among these people who agreed that their partner could listen more, average relationship satisfaction was 5.5/7. Which, you might think, is reasonably high.
Among people who disagreed that their partner could listen more, however, average relationship satisfaction was 0.8 points higher (6.3/7). This tells us that feeling like your partner is already a good listener is associated with a 14% increase in relationship satisfaction.
Figure 1: Differences in Relationship Satisfaction
Figure 1 shows that listening influenced relationship satisfaction more than anything else. It also includes a small selection of some of the other factors that mattered – some of which may be more surprising than others. Disagreeing that your partner needs to be more attentive, stop lying(!), work more, and ‘be more engaged’ were all associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction; as was agreeing that your partner could think more about themselves.
These findings provide a series of new insights into the ingredients of a successful relationship that confirm historic research on the importance of communication, conflict management, levels of intimacy and stress, and emotional intelligence.
But in this blog we have barely scratched the surface. In a future post we’ll look at our results in more detail – including findings from a second study in which we asked people what they (rather than their partner) could do to improve their relationship.