Our happily-ever-romance culture insists that a satisfying life must include perfect romantic relationships.
When real life experience does not track with our romantic expectations we may doubt our ability to have a satisfying life.
The conclusion that romantic love is a predictor of happiness can be overstated. Unrequited love, love of an abusive partner, or obsessive love can lead not to satisfaction but to deep unhappiness.
The place of your romantic relationship in a satisfying life depends on both the nature of the relationship and your approach to life satisfaction.
Defining A Satisfying Life
Research into marriage and other predictors of living a long and healthy life suggest that humans have a need to belong. We live longer when we have strong social bonds. People who survive to old age not only have long marriages, they are close to family and friends and committed to regular social activities.
Having friends, keeping in touch with family, and mentoring a young person are better predictors of a satisfying life. Much more so than how much money you make. Your goals, your passion for something, and your openness to growth in your interests and beliefs are also indications of a satisfying life.
The connection between having a satisfying life and having a loving romantic relationship is strong. But having many kinds of relationships with others is the key to life satisfaction.
Importance of All Relationships
A Harvard University 75-year study shows that good relationships of all kinds keep us both happier and healthier. A recent TED Talk by its current director underscores the point that we are hard-wired for relationships with other human beings.
The study found that couples who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Happy relationships helped even those who suffered physical pain to keep a happy mood. Plus, people in relationships where they felt they could count on their partner in times of need had sharper memories.
Thus, both romantic and social relationships are predictors of a satisfying life.
How Romantic Relationships Affect Life Satisfaction
It’s possible to lead a satisfying life without romantic relationships. But most people seek to express love in a romantic relationship with a compatible partner.
Finding such a relationship is not a given. The ability to have a healthy, loving relationship begins in early childhood. Experience with a caretaker who meets your needs for food, care, protection, stimulation and social contact readies you for relating to others.
Most of us must work consciously to master the skills needed for a wholehearted relationship—one of reciprocal love for a caring partner.
Choosing a Romantic Relationship
People in committed relationships are generally happier than other people. And the more committed the better.
A Cornell University study found that spouses had the highest sense of well-being. Next on the scale of happiness are those who cohabit, followed by people in steady relationships and those in casual relationships. People without partners scored lowest.
Romance novels and movies tell us that love happens like a bolt from the blue. But romantic relationships don’t just happen. Healthy, long-term relationships depend on kindness, consideration, and attention.
Couples who age together grow together, both as couples and as individuals. Choosing to have a romantic relationship means choosing to strengthen your connection to your lover by working on self-development and nurturing your relationship with day-to-day loving and romantic gestures.
Moreover, sharing personal feelings, listening carefully, and responding in encouraging ways help cultivate positive emotions and deepen your relationships. These are some of the various tools that you can learn in couples counseling.
Relationships, Happiness, and A Satisfying Life
Happiness comes from the support one gets from positive relationships, both social and romantic. But it also comes from providing that kind of support for someone else. To be isolated and excluded is to lose life’s meaning.
A satisfying life is a life with relationships of all kinds. The ability to be close to another person is the strongest predictor of health, happiness, and a satisfying life.