An annual relationship check-up improves your relationship

Should we all attend annual relationship check-ups just like we pay annual visits to the dentist? It seems like we should. The longer you have been in a relationship, the less satisfied you are - and at some point, almost half of all marriages will end in divorce. New research shows that a relationship check-up may improve the quality of your relationship.

Together with the Centre for Family Development, the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS has carried out preventive experiments on 233 couples from Aarhus and Copenhagen in order to identify how relationship check-ups affect the level of satisfaction in a relationship.

The results, which have been published in the recognised American Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, are the first to show that attending regular relationship counselling sessions, structured in a short, cheap and easily accessible format at a private psychologist, can systematically improve a relationship. 

“The implications of the results are far-reaching since we know that relationship problems develop over time - not just in some couples, but in the majority - just like most of us will experience dental decay at some point in our life. Until now, we just haven’t had any results with models adapted to a practical programme which takes place regularly and over a period of time,” says Associate Professor Thea Trillingsgaard, one of the researchers behind the study.

Three factors determine relationship quality
The researchers measure the quality of a relationship by focusing on three factors: The first factor is relationship satisfaction, which is measured according to whether the relationship meets the expectations of both parties. The second factor is the level of intimacy. Here the aim is to explore whether both parties are comfortable in intimate situations e.g. when they seek comfort, initiate sex or start a conversation about a difficult subject. The final factor is the level of mutual attention in a relationship. This concerns our perception of our partner’s availability, attention and positive response when we initiate contact. 

The results
After the first relationship check-up, the researchers observed a positive effect on the quality of the relationship when comparing the check-up group to the control group. During the year and in between the two relationship check-ups, the effect decreased temporarily, only to increase before the second relationship check-up. After the second check-up, all factors had improved significantly. The study thus indicates that a relationship check-up is an effective way of improving the level of satisfaction, intimacy and mutual attention in a relationship, and that regular relationship check-ups are a good investment if you want to maintain the quality of a relationship.

“The relationship seems to be the most important family relation when it comes to the family’s overall quality of life. For this reason, it’s important to focus on doing something for one another - on a regular basis and well in advance before the crisis hits,” concludes Associate Professor Tea Trillingsgaard.

In Denmark, almost half of all marriages end in divorce (48.7 per cent according to Statistics Denmark, 2015). And to this number, you can add couples who stay together in an unhappy or conflict-ridden marriage. In connection with conflicts or break-ups in a relationship or marriage, adults will often experience reduced mental or health, while children will experience behavioural, emotional and scholastic problems.

The research results come from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, and the study has been conducted from 2013-2016 in collaboration with the Centre for Family Development and with funding from Ole Kirk’s Foundation. Participants in the study were couples with children under 18. In the study, participants reported anything from “few” to “extensive” relationship difficulties.  The couples received two relationship check-ups with one year’s interval. The results have been published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

233 couples were recruited in Aarhus and Copenhagen via newspaper adverts, a website, flyers and the media. The couples were chosen by lot and were offered either an annual relationship check-up (n = 116) or a place on the waiting list (n = 117). The data were collected over a period of two years via internet-based questionnaires.

Read more:

New experiment sends couples in for annual relationship check-ups (in Danish only)

Further information

Associate Professor Tea Trillingsgaard
Telephone: +4587165843
Mobile phone: +4526858554

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