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Studies of Over 11,000 Relationships Show 5 Things the Happiest Couples Have in Common

In their recent analysis of 11,196 relationships via 43 different studies, researchers ultimately found five similarities among happy couples.

By February 11, 2022No Comments

Relationship science: it’s a thing. But what exactly is it, and why is it worth paying attention to?

This interdisciplinary field that spans various social sciences like psychology, sociology, economics, family studies, and communication helps explain and even predict why some romantic relationships thrive more than others.

Let’s face it, we’re all looking for the secret to relationship happiness. After all, as human beings, we’re wired for connection. Each person and every relationship is intricately unique, but this research shows how there may be certain commonalities that successful, happy, long-lasting relationships—in all their beautiful diversity—share.

Related: Why Choosing To Not Watch Porn Is Like Giving A Sex-Positive Gift To Your Relationship

In their 2020 analysis of 11,196 romantic relationships via 43 different studies, researchers ultimately found five commonalities among happy couples.

Let’s dive in, and while we’re at it, take a look at how porn can harm each of these aspects in relationships because we’re an awareness-raising organization that educates on the harmful effects of porn using science, facts, and personal accounts.

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1. How individuals perceive their partner’s commitment to the relationship

Vital to the longevity of intimate relationships is having the confidence that your partner will stick by you. And on the flip side, feeling like your partner isn’t fully committed can lead to a downward spiral of negative thoughts and worries that are ultimately less than conducive to long-term relationship success.

Sex and relationship expert Tammy Nelson, Ph.D. shares, “How we perceive our partner’s commitment to the relationship is more important than how we perceive their commitment to us. If we believe they’re committed to staying together no matter what—even when we’re a horrible partner—then we can relax and feel confident that our relationship will weather any [situation], including a pandemic.”

Porn’s harms: Research shows that porn consumers tend to experience more negative communication with their partners, feel less dedicated to their relationships, have a more difficult  time making adjustments in their relationships, are less sexually satisfied, and commit more infidelity.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing sexually-explicit materials alone or together: associations with relationship quality. Archives of sexual behavior, 40(2), 441–448. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4COPY  Research also shows that porn consumers tend to become less committed to their partners,Minarcik, J., Wetterneck, C. T., & Short, M. B. (2016). The Effects Of Sexually Explicit Material Use On Romantic Relationship Dynamics. Journal Of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4) 700-707. Doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.078COPY Lambert, N. M., Negash, S., Stillman, T. F., Olmstead, S. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). A love that doesn't last: Pornography consumption and weakened commitment to one's romantic partner. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31(4), 410-438. doi:10.1521/jscp.2012.31.4.410COPY  less satisfied in their relationships,Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., Kraus, A., & Klann, E. (2017). Pornography consumption and satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 43(3), 315-343. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/hcre.12108COPY  and more accepting of cheating.Rasmussen, K. (2016). A Historical and Empirical Review of Pornography and Romantic Relationships: Implications for Family Researchers. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8(2), 173-191. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12141COPY 

Related: How Our Relationship Has Changed Since My Partner Quit Watching Porn

2. The appreciation partners have for one another

According to the research, both giving and receiving appreciation is essential for building a healthy relationship.

Dr. Nelson explains, “We always get more of what we appreciate. We get more time, more attention, more affection, and more good sex when we appreciate our partner for what they do and who they are.”

Porn’s harms: Internet pornography has a number of unique properties that make it very different from real-life relationships with real-life people.

Features of porn such as limitless novelty, on-demand accessibility, and easy escalation to more extreme material can condition someone’s expectations for sex to aspects of pornography consumption that do not readily translate to real-life partners. As this happens, real-life sex may not register as meeting expectations for a regular porn consumer, and arousal and satisfaction can decline.Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017COPY 

Think about it—when you’re overly critical of someone, it’s difficult to fully appreciate them. And that’s exactly what porn does. Studies show that while porn promises to increase sexual enjoyment, and many couples believe it will strengthen their bond, research indicates that compulsive pornography consumption is directly related to erectile dysfunction,Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017COPY  sexual dysfunction for both men and women,Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603COPY  problems with arousal and sexual performance,Sun, C., Bridges, A., Johnson, J. A., & Ezzell, M. B. (2016). Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption and Sexual Relations. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 983–994. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0391-2COPY  difficulty reaching orgasm,Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603COPY  and decreased sexual satisfaction.Szymanski, D. M., & Stewart-Richardson, D. N. (2014). Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Correlates of Pornography Use on Young Adult Heterosexual Men in Romantic Relationships. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 22(1), 64–82. https://doi.org/10.3149/jms.2201.64COPY 

3. Mutual sexual satisfaction

Communication is a vital part of creating a healthy, fulfilling sexual relationship. Dr. Nelson shares, “As a sex therapist, I absolutely agree that sexual satisfaction is the glue that keeps a long-term relationship alive. Sex can bind a couple together when other life problems get in the way of their companionship and day-to-day life.”

Related: 30 National Surveys Reveal Porn Consumption Is Associated With Poorer Relationship Quality

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Porn’s harms: World-renowned relationship experts, Doctors John and Julie Gottman wrote an open letter through the Gottman Institute to express their concerns about porn’s impact on relationships.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

“Research on the effects of pornography use, especially one person frequently viewing pornographic images online, shows that pornography can hurt a couple’s relationship…

… There are many other factors about porn use that can threaten a relationship’s intimacy. First, intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people. But when one person becomes accustomed to masturbating to porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction. Second, when watching pornography the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control with the partner…

… Worse still, many porn sites include violence toward women, the antithesis of intimate connection…. Pornography can also lead to a decrease in relationship trust and a higher likelihood of affairs outside the relationship. Many porn sites now offer an escalation of sexual activity beyond simply viewing porn that includes actually having sex with other individuals.

… In summary, we are led to unconditionally conclude that for many reasons, pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony. This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our readers around the world to understand what is at stake.”

-Drs. John and Julie Gottman, The Gottman Institute, April 5, 2016Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (April 5, 2016). An open letter on porn. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-open-letter-on-porn/COPY 

“There’s a certain way of experiencing sexual arousal that is the opposite of closeness,” said Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with porn addicts for the last 30 years. “At best, it can be managed somewhat by some people, but most of the time it creates a barrier that poisons relationships.”Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.COPY 

4. How individuals perceive their partner’s satisfaction

Feeling sexually and intimately satisfied is very important in relationships. But so is feeling confident that you’re satisfying your partner, according to the research. Knowing or perceiving your partner is satisfied can boost your own confidence. And again, coming to this understanding requires that magic word—communication.

It’s not just important to have healthy sex, but to talk about it openly, too.

Porn’s harms: Partners of porn consumers can feel a whole range of negative emotions when they find out their significant other has been watching porn. They can feel rejection, loneliness, anger, and shame.Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784COPY  Even if they don’t believe that porn is the same as cheating, they can often feel a deep sense of betrayal and mistrust.Szymanski, D. M., Feltman, C. E., & Dunn, T. L. (2015). Male partners’ perceived pornography use and Women’s relational and psychological health: The roles of trust, attitudes, and investment. Sex Roles, 73(5), 187-199. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0518-5COPY Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784COPY  The secrecy, shame, isolation, and mistrust that can be introduced into a relationship by porn consumption can then snowball into all kinds of problems.Maddox, A. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2011). Viewing Sexually-Explicit Materials Alone or Together: Associations with Relationship Quality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(2), 441-448. doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9585-4COPY 

Consider this study. A team of researchers interviewed women who were in couple’s therapy for their partner’s pornography consumption. They found that pornography consumption is linked to feelings of betrayal and the erosion of the attachment bond in couple relationships. The researchers concluded that an analysis of the wives’ comments revealed a sense of “distance or disconnection from their husband” and “a general sense of being betrayed and harmed by their husband and subsequently feeling unsafe, emotionally and psychologically speaking, and insecure in their relationship.”Zitzman, S. T., & Butler, M. H. (2009). Wives’ experience of husbands’ pornography use and concomitant deception as an attachment threat in the adult pair-bond relationship. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 16, 210–240.COPY 

Ultimately, porn negatively impacts satisfaction on both sides of a relationship—and not just sexually, but in all aspects.

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5. Healthy and productive conflict resolution

The goal of being a couple who “never fights” isn’t actually realistic, nor does it lead to long-term happiness, researchers say. Dr. Nelson explains, “It’s true that all couples have conflict, and it is the resolution of conflict that matters most. If a couple can resolve their conflicts and can end their arguments well, they’re more likely to stay together and be happy.”

Porn’s harms: Relationship experts have long recognized that relationships last when partners develop a secure attachment with each other, where each partner trusts that the other will be physically and emotionally responsive to his or her needs. It’s understandable, then, that any behaviors that have the potential to disrupt or erode this trust can have a negative impact on couple communication, intimacy, and satisfaction. Scholars and therapists have noted that partner differences in pornography consumption and pornography concealment may influence the partners’ sense of trustworthiness and security in the relationship.Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., Willoughby, B. J., & Brown, C. C. (2017). The porn gap: Differences in men's and women's pornography patterns in couple relationships. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 16(2), 146–163. https://doi.org/10.1080/15332691.2016.1238796COPY 

Even if porn isn’t kept a secret—even if partners are open and honest about their consumption—it can still do real harm.

Related: Can Giving Up Porn Improve Your Dating Potential?

Progress, not perfection, is the goal

No couple is going to have the perfect relationship overnight, if ever. In fact, perfection really isn’t the end goal—what counts is continuous improvement and mutual effort. And if couples truly want to thrive, research shows it pays to take porn out of the equation.

Ultimately, porn doesn’t have a place when it comes to relationship longevity and happiness. Porn Kills Love isn’t just a catch phrase—it’s an idea backed by research. And researchers, individuals, and couples are speaking up about just how harmful porn can be.

Let’s fight for real intimacy and healthy, fulfilling relationships by sharing the truth about porn.