Interesting Research

15 Questions for Building Mutually Enjoyable Fulfilling Relationships

Early Dating, Interesting Research

Making decisions are hard. We have more access to information and statistics to help us make decisions, but picking romantic partners isn’t just about science. It’s about connection, love, and committing to building something together. So how do we work out if we can make it work? These 15 questions will help bring some clarity. 

If you’ve ever read anything else on this website, you’ll know that I’m really passionate about us all being intentional in our relationships and relationship choices. Relationships are meant to be enjoyed, but I believe thinking things through and being purposeful is part of creating the enjoyment.

My friend asked me the other day how my marriage was going. Thankfully, I could say it was really good and we are really happy. The only time we were struggling a bit was when we stopped being intentional, started taking it for granted, and we had to re-focus on our intentionality.

15 Tried and Tested Questions

After chatting to my friend, I came across these 15 questions in a great article by Dr. Gary Lewandowski Jr., the renowned psychology professor and relationship scientist.

These questions can help us to focus on what’s important

He listed 15 questions based on his and other people’s research on love and healthy relationships. He acknowledges relationships aren’t based purely on science, but these questions can help us to focus on what is important, and help us decide if there is a real and authentic connection there.

So here are the questions worth asking ourselves and each other, to see if our relationship is healthy, and on the path to being mutually fulfilling:

1) Does your partner make you a better person, and do you do the same for them?
2) Are you and your partner both comfortable with sharing feelings, relying on each other, being close, and able to avoid worrying about the other person leaving?
3) Do you and your partner accept each other for who you are, without trying to change each other?
4) When disagreements arise, do you and your partner communicate respectfully and without contempt or negativity?
5) Do you and your partner share decision-making, power, and influence in the relationship?
6) Is your partner your best friend, and are you theirs?
7) Do you and your partner think more in terms of “we” and “us,” rather than “you” and “I”?
8) Would you and your partner trust each other with the passwords to social media and bank accounts?
9) Do you and your partner have good opinions of each other – without having an overinflated positive view?
10) Do your close friends, as well as your partner’s, think you have a great relationship that will stand the test of time?
11) Is your relationship free of red flags like cheating, jealousy and controlling behaviour?
12) Do you and your partner share the same values when it comes to politics, religion, the importance of marriage, the desire to have kids (or not) and how to parent?
13) Are you and your partner willing to sacrifice your own needs, desires, and goals for each other (without being a doormat)?
14) Do you and your partner both have agreeable and emotionally stable personalities?
15) What are you and your partner’s views on sex, and are you thinking about it in a healthy way?

I think this list is really helpful because it’s focused on couples building something together, rather than on ‘What can I get out of this?’. But there are some questions I think need to be tweaked or explained slightly.

Sexually Compatibility

As a Christian, I believe that God created sex and wants to bless us with it in the right context. (Read God Created Sex and Sexual Desire, Honest!).

Originally, the last question on the list said: ‘Are you and your partner sexually compatible?’ But for me, who thinks committing/ re-committing to waiting until marriage ’til sex is God’s best for us, this important question wasn’t framed quite right.

Sexual compatibility and satisfaction is more to do with how we view sex

I say this because people often think ‘sexual satisfaction’ means sex with lots of people, which then means they’ll be happy. However, research suggests sexual compatibility and satisfaction is more to do with how we view sex, rather than what experiences we’ve had. (Read I’m Getting Married, I’ll Be Having Sex Soon….Help!)

So I believe discussing views and values around sex is more important when thinking about building healthy relationships, and will be more beneficial.

Best Friend, Not Only Friend

I also think it’s worth emphasising that question 6 says ‘Is your partner your best friend?’, rather than ’your only friend’. Often we can ignore other friendships and expect our romantic relationships to be the source of all our comfort and worth. Which it can never be.

Maintaining and investing in our friendships is important, and also makes our romantic relationship stronger. (Read I Can’t Come, I’m With My Girlfriend, Again!)

Emotionally Stable

Number 14 says ‘Do you and your partner both have agreeable and emotionally stable personalities?’. Now, in a world where mental health is still often taboo but affects so many people, this question can be misinterpreted.

Being willing to support each other

I would emphasise that it doesn’t mean we need to be perfect, or never struggle emotionally, or have personalities that are totally complimentary or identical. It’s more about being willing to support each other and deciding to be purposeful about learning to do that better.

Perfection isn’t needed, but a commitment to making it work is. (Read Quick Guide: Discover What All Good Dating Relationship Have In Common)

Imagine If…

You may be dating, engaged, looking for love, or married. You may have some concerns, be keen to make a good relationship great, or just want to keep building something worth having.

Imagine if we used these questions to help us make sure we were building something together, in a selfless, mutually enjoyable, and fulfilling way. How amazing would it be, if we took practical steps, to make sure we could answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions?

What is the first thing you need to do after reading these questions? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 6/8/2018

New Research Suggests Friends Can Make Or Break Our Relationship

Interesting Research, Relationship Difficulties

Lots of research has been done around how the opinions of a person’s friends and family can help or hinder their relationship. But now attention has been given to how the couple’s perspective of each other’s friends impacts their romantic relationship. There are important lessons to be learned, especially if some friendships are causing tension in our relationship. 

I have said it before in these posts and I will say it again, I love listening to podcasts. I think it’s a great way to pass the time and a good way to drift off to sleep at night.

One that I listen to from time to time is called ‘Relationship Matters’. They explore lots of different issues to do with relationships of all kinds. But episode 65 caught my eye recently. It’s called ‘I Love You, Not Your Friends’.

I Love You, Not Your Friends

You can listen to the full podcast here. In summary, it discusses new research in the area of couple’s relationships. Specifically, how the perception of each other friends impacts their relationship.

They interviewed and followed 355 married couples over 16 years, and some of their findings were surprising.

That couple was twice as likely to divorce

Shocking Findings 

The main finding that stood out was that after two years of marriage, if the husband thought his wife’s friends interfered in the relationship, that couple were twice as likely to divorce. Twice as likely!

The other equally and shocking finding was that, if the wife thought her husband’s friends interfered in their relationship, it didn’t increase the chance of divorce at all.

The researchers put this down to a few reasons, some of which were majorly playing to stereotypes, but in their words, they thought that:

  • Wives have stronger emotional attachments to their friends, so are less likely to ‘give them up’ if the husband feels threatened. Which makes the husband feel more hurt and disconnected.
  • Wives are more likely to arrange social activities between couples, which means the husband sees her friends more and therefore makes him more aware of any perceived interference.
  • Husbands tend to rely more on their wives for friendship and support, whereas wives have more friends outside of the marriage. This means any ‘interference’ is more of a threat to the husband.

It’s clear that the success of a relationship is majorly affected by how friendships are perceived

These reasonings are just theories, and the researchers cannot be 100% sure why the findings are what they are. However, it’s clear that the success of a relationship, especially a married relationship, is majorly affected by how friendships are perceived.


I found this study interesting, even if it raised a lot more questions than answers. But I do come across people who say things like, ‘I’m not getting on with my wife’s friends’, or ‘My boyfriend’s best mate is a pain’, or ‘They always talk about our problems with other people. I don’t like it’.

Men and women, married couples and people who are dating, say things like this. It can be a real problem when people you care about don’t get on. The research may have focused on the husband’s view, but this can be a problem for anyone.

This research should serve as a warning that in our marriages, and romantic relationships like dating, these issues and feelings can grow into major problems.

If these friendships are perceived as problematic then there is an issue

So What Can We Learn?

I always say that being married, or having a girlfriend or boyfriend, is not enough to fulfil us. No matter what our relationship status is, we need to have wider friendships and hobbies and interests. No one person can answer all of our needs. (Read Have You Fallen Into the ‘Relationship Status’ Trap?)

However, if these friendships are perceived as problematic and ‘interfere’ with the relationship, then there is an issue that needs addressing. Between what I think and what was suggested on the podcast, the advice would be to:

  • Try to focus on the positives. If you have a problem with your partner’s friend, try to appreciate the fact they are also generous, help out, etc. Don’t just focus on the negatives.
  • Don’t give ultimatums. Don’t say it’s them or me. But try to explain why you have a problem. If it’s your friend, listen and acknowledge why it is upsetting for your partner.
  • Come up with fair boundaries. For example, it’s not okay to talk about this area of your relationships with friends because it should be private. Compromise and agree on rules. (Read How To Communicate Well When We’re Annoyed)

Imagine If…

People do not always get on. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes we need to negotiate how to relate to two people we really care about who don’t get on.

Imagine if we didn’t just ignore problems or ignore people’s feelings, but really tried to work through solutions. Our partner’s perception of our friends massively affects the strength of our relationship, so it is something we cannot just ignore.

Have you been in this situation, have any advice? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 30/10/2017

How To Tell If Our Relationships Are Thriving

Friendships, Interesting Research

Being present sounds like the easiest thing. But just sitting there instead of checking our phones, getting passed the initial awkwardness to begin a conversation, and carving out time from our busy to do list, is hard. But all our relationships, romantic or otherwise, can only thrive if we teach ourselves to be present in the moment. 

I love a to-do list. Having a plan and knowing what needs to be done next is great for me. This trait is good in many ways. For example, it helps me to focus and get things done. However, like all personality traits, there are also ‘side effects’.

This can cause me to focus too much on the next thing. I say to myself ‘right, after I have done this I need to do that, then go here and…’. So I end up not being present in the moment, and I focus on the next ‘task’ rather than the person in front of me.

Even people who would say they are spontaneous and don’t like to-do lists, can forget to make time for friends, or meet up with specific people, and invest in their relationships because there is no structure. We can all focus on other things in the busyness of life, and unintentionally not invest in our relationships and friendships.

So what can we do? Try to cut things out? Make more time? Maybe, but this is often hard to do and we end up feeling just as busy and guilty about not meeting up with people.

Personal Challenge 

This really hit me a while ago when I was listening to a random podcast.

Essentially, a mum who was starting her own business said she felt guilty when she was at work because she felt she should be spending more time with her kids. And when she was with her kids she felt guilty because she should be spending time getting stuff done at work.

Well why don’t you learn to focus on the moment and be present?

Someone in the podcast said to her: Well why don’t you learn to focus on the moment and be present? Instead of worrying and longing to be somewhere else, focus on the people you are with. Invest in what’s going on there and then.

I thought this was a challenge for me too. Instead of worrying too much about the next thing, or the things I’m not doing, I decided I had to learn to focus on the people I was with.

Relationship Are The Priority 

Whilst learning to be more present with friends, trying to stop my mind from wondering to tasks I need to complete next, I came across a very interesting article.

An 80-year long study from the University of Harvard found, to the researchers’ surprise, that strong meaningful relationships prolong life, increase life satisfaction, and improve mental and physical health.

You can read the article in full here, but it emphasises the importance of relationships. For example, it says:

‘Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.’

‘The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health…Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too… The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80’.

It’s fascinating to see that scientific research also stresses how important relationships are

Now, I truly believe my faith and God’s word stresses the importance of relationships, and we find true fulfilment and happiness by investing in our relationship with Him and others. (Read Reflecting God’s Image Is Found In Plurality.) It’s fascinating to see that modern scientific research also stresses how important relationships are. The article also said:

‘Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier,…and the loners often died earlier. “Loneliness kills… It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”’

Being In The Moment 

It confirmed to me again that trying to exercise, develop skills for my job, doing life admin, are all important and necessary, but I can’t let it drown out the effort I put into my relationships.

There is something in us which craves intimacy and closeness, and it can only be filled by relationships

Forcing myself to talk and really listen, and not think of the next task that needs to be done. Resisting the urge to pick up my phone and look through social media when I am with people. Making time to pick up the phone or send a text so I can catch-up with an old friend. When I’m talking to someone I really need to look, listen, and engage with them.

There is something in us which craves intimacy and closeness, and it can only be filled by relationships, and I don’t just mean romantic ones, but by having close friendships. We need to learn to invest and be in the moment and avoid the ever tempting distractions.

Imagine If…

We can often assume our relationships will just be strong no matter what. But they only become strong when we invest, make time for the little conversations and the deep ones, and make time for each other.

Imagine if we learnt to be more present and to prioritise relationships alongside all the other things in our lives, like our career, improving our physical health, etc. We may not only find more joy in our lives and support during the bad times, but be glad that we can be there and be a blessing for those people who are close to us. (Read I Wouldn’t Have Survived Without My Church Family.)

What is the one thing you can do today to invest in a friendship? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 2/10/2017

Revealed: Why Some Break-Ups Actually Feel Good (After A While)

Break- Ups, Interesting Research

The words ‘break-up’ and ‘feeling good’ don’t often go together. Just thinking about saying them together seems crazy to lots of us. But some people are happy about their break-up. They feel liberated. So why is that? And what can those struggling with a break-up learn from them? Well, some research shows ‘self-expansion’ is key.

I recently came across a very interesting video about break-ups. Someone called Gary Lewandowski Jr., a professor of psychology, gave a short talk on break-ups based on his scientific research. (Watch it here)

He clearly has a lot of experience in the area of relationships and has done lots of experiments too. I found the main point in his short talk really surprising and intriguing. One that could really help those who have recently ended a romantic relationship.

Surprising Twist

He started off by saying things I wholeheartedly agree with. Emphasising that ‘our relationships build us, they define us, they sustain us’. And that ‘relationships are the source of all of your best memories and the source of all of your worst memories.’

Relationships are often sacrificed at the expense of career or pursuit of other things, so we were on the same page saying that they are often undervalued but so important.

He went on to make it clear that break-ups can cause a lot of harm though. They can cause increased loneliness, depression, drug taking, crime. People often feel a ‘loss of self’ because when a relationship ends, a part of themselves goes with it. This is never good.

Most people think a break-up isn’t as bad as they feared

However, his research showed that more often than not, most people think a break-up isn’t as bad as they feared, and actually felt more positive than negative about it. Surprising right? So why is that?

Lewandowski Jr. was arguing that it comes down to one main factor: Self-expansion. The question to ask is: Is the person you’re in a relationship with building you up or holding you back? Are they helping you grow or preventing you reaching your potential?

A Good Break-Up

When your relationship doesn’t help you become a better person, ending it does

Self-expansion allows people to thrive and rediscover the things that bring them fulfilment. If the relationship, for whatever reason, causes someone to feel trapped and unable to thrive and grow, then when they break up they are able to do the things they love doing and rediscover the things that bring them fulfilment and happiness, they will feel positive.

He summarised it like this: ‘when your relationship doesn’t help you become a better person, ending it does’.

Now lots could be said about this, but I always say a relationship should be mutually fulfilling, mutually enjoyable, and mutually beneficial. Yes, everyone will need to sacrifice something, yes, it takes hard work, but at its core, both people need to be selfless and other-person-centred for it to truly thrive. (Read If A Relationship Doesn’t Change Me, Then It’s Not A Relationship.)

Both people should be helping and supporting the other one to grow. This research suggests that if a relationship that isn’t characterised by these things ends, people feel better as a result. They go from feeling trapped, to liberated and see it as a good break up.

What Can We Learn   

But what about if we break-up after a relationship, whether it’s was a good or bad relationship, and feel rubbish. And don’t feel better off as a result?

Well, the best practical tip is to invest in this idea of self-expansion.

Do something that you love doing but didn’t do while you were in the relationship. So if you love dancing and your partner didn’t, go dancing again. If they stopped you investing time and money into a hobby, start now.

Rediscovery of self activities, doing the stuff you couldn’t do in the relationship, helps accelerate coping

In his video, Lewandowski Jr. discusses experiments which prove this theory and helped real people experiencing negative emotions cope a lot better with their situation after a break-up.

A rediscovery of self-activities, doing the stuff you couldn’t do in the relationship, helps accelerate coping. It reduces negative emotions like loneliness and increases positive feelings of purpose and self-acceptance.

Imagine If…

Break-ups affect people differently. Either way, they’re never fun or simple. The way we do it is important (Read 6 Ways to Break-up Well: Part 1 (No Ghosting or Breadcrumbing allowed!)). But for those of us who are struggling, a good piece of very practical advice is self-expansion.

Imagine if when we’re in that situation or have friends that are, instead of feeling helpless, we encouraged them to do things we/they love but haven’t done in a while. This will help to accelerate coping. It will most likely help turn a very negative situation around quicker than expected.

What other good bits of advice have you heard about break-ups? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 7/8/2017

One Big Reason Why Dating Feels Overwhelming

Finding A Date, Interesting Research

I heard about ‘The Paradox Of Choice’ theory a while ago. It argues that in our modern consumer culture we have too much choice now, and it’s often overwhelming. We feel the pressure to ‘make the right decision’. When it comes to dating, this can leave us feeling exhausted. I think there are three things we can do to feel less overwhelmed with the whole dating thing.

You know that older family member who regales you with stories from their childhood. They always seem to think things are getting easier and they had it much harder.

They want you to know how lucky you are and they say things like:

‘Back in my day, we had to go to the library to do homework. Computers didn’t exist. We couldn’t surf the internet’. Or ‘Back in my day, we had to wash all the dishes by hand, no machines to help us’.

When I’m Old I Wonder…

I have often wondered what I’ll say when I’m older and wanting to make sure people around me know I had it tough. I might say:

‘Back in my day you couldn’t just turn the T.V. on with voice activation, you had to spend 5 minutes looking for the control; shouting at your brother as you accused him of losing it again’.

Or maybe ‘Back in my day, we couldn’t shop online, we had to get in the car and drive a whole 10 minutes to get to the shops’. Things always seem to get easier eh!

The way we date and settle down seems to be alien to them

In my experience though, the one thing the older generation and older family member ‘admits’ is getting harder is this thing called dating and relationships. The way we date and settle down seems to be alien to them.

They can’t believe the complications and pressures we’re put under as we look for that special someone. ‘Back in my day, it was much simpler’.

The Paradox of Choice 

I listened to a talk a while ago by someone called Barry Schwartz called ‘The Paradox of Choice’. It was very interesting; his core point was that due to advancements in technology, affluence, consumerism and individual freedom, the western world has more choice than ever.

In one of his illustrations he said in his local supermarket he found 175 salad dressing options. 175! He was emphasising the amount of choice we now have. Even for little things like salad dressing.

More Choice More Problems 

He went on to list the positive effects of more choice, but he also listed the negative side too.

My attention was particularly grabbed when he started to talk about romantic relationships. He argued that this ‘Paradox of Choice’ affected dating hugely.

Now there are more questions and more choice

The default assumption a few decades ago used to be that we got married and had kids as early as possible. The only choice to make was ‘Who should I marry?’

But now there are more questions and more choices. People need to ask:

  • Should I even get married or not?
  • Should I do it now or later?
  • Should I have a career or kids first?
  • What is my sexual orientation?
  • Is a traditional relationship too old fashioned?
  • Do I think marriage is for life?
  • Is it a good idea to live together first?
  • Where is the best place to meet someone?

These questions, and more, take up so much head space for those of us who are navigating through the modern dating culture. Your head may be spinning just reading them!

It Ain’t Getting Easier 

It’s important to recognise all of these choices and questions are here to stay.

Whether we like it or not, even if we feel like we can answer some of the questions ‘easily’, we need to answer them before we can really invest in any (serious) relationship. Our modern culture gives us many many options, and we need to decide.

If this isn’t worrying enough, we feel like we really should get it right. For example, if I go to buy a toothbrush and there are over a hundred options and the one I choose turns out to be useless, who can I blame?

That’s the pressure we carry. That’s the reason we feel overwhelmed by it all

It would be the manufacturer’s or shop’s fault if there was only one option which ended up being faulty. But I had the choice to pick from hundreds, so it’s me and my choice that’s faulty. By the same logic, if I pick the wrong person to date, out of all these people I meet, then it must be my fault, right?

That’s the message we’re taught. That’s the pressure we carry. That’s the reason we feel overwhelmed by it all. That’s why it ain’t getting easier.

What To Do

Even if we aren’t asking the big questions about marriage and the future; knowing who to date, when to commit and trying to figure out if it could work with that person, feels overwhelming too.

I want to say a few things that can help us:

  1. We need to recognise the situation we find ourselves in. Dating apps and technology, better transport, more opportunity to move, etc., means we have so much choice when it comes to dating. If you feel overwhelmed, that’s normal.
  2. Having more choice doesn’t mean more happiness. Believing that if we have more options and date more people means it’ll all work out isn’t the case. Reflecting on what type of relationship we really want to build, narrowing the focus, is more beneficial than just getting more and more choices.
  3. We will make mistakes. We’ve all made mistakes in this area. Maybe we’ve had a relationship that ended badly. Maybe we’ve been crippled by fear because we worry it may not work out. Maybe looking back we realise we treated them badly. More choice means we will all have some regrets and not always make the right decision. You need to forgive yourself and try to learn from them. (Read I Want To Trust Them, But I’ve Been Hurt Before)

Imagine If… 

Imagine if we accepted that the dating culture is getting harder

‘The Paradox Of Choice’ theory is fascinating. Naturally, some of the change ‘having more choice’ has brought is very positive, but there are negative side effects.

But imagine if we accepted that the dating culture is getting harder. So we were empowered to accept more support and advice. Rather than believing the myth that seeking relationship help is a weakness or something we should just ‘fix on our own’.

Remember, we need to recognise the situation we may find ourselves in. Having more choice doesn’t mean more happiness, reflecting on what type of relationship we really want to build, narrowing the focus, is more beneficial. And we will make mistakes. Dating is harder, but not impossible. (Read 5 Rules To Follow When Talking To Someone You Like)

Are there any other effects you can think of? Comments welcomed below.  

Originally posted 26/4/2017