The Science of Love – What Makes a Good Relationship?

Relationships love

Most of us grow up besieged by morals, models and myths about what makes good relationships. They come from well-intentioned parents and playground peers, teachers, preachers, and popular media. But can science assist our love lives?

For queer or non-conforming folk, these dominant narratives and social prescriptions can fit as well as a poorly tailored suit. It can be quite the challenge to discern what constitutes a healthy, functioning relationship.

If only there were a set of guidelines, based not on religious dogma or patriarchal, cis and hetero-centric values, but concrete, scientific data. Oh, wait…There is!

The Science of Love

John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute spent forty years interviewing over three thousand couples, to help us better understand what makes relationships succeed and fail.

Through the analysis of patterns and sequences, they developed tools enabling them to predict the success or failure of intimate relationships with ninety-per cent accuracy. Outcome research shows that their methods are effective across a range of couples, regardless of socio-economic status, culture or sexual orientation. The Gottmans focus their approach on the three primary domains of Friendship, Conflict
Management and the creation of Shared Meanings.

Below are my top takeaways:


Create love maps – How much do you know about the person you are relating with? Take time to understand who they really are and what makes them tick. Perhaps you can invent your own quiz to make it fun.

Nurture fondness and admiration – A relationship dominated by criticism, resentment and contempt is heading for failure. Find opportunities to remind yourself, and each other, what it is that you truly admire and appreciate in one another.

Conflict Management

Turn toward each other. When our relationships become a struggle, the temptation is to turn outside for comfort and relief from friends, family or other lovers or sex partners. Stepping away to breathe and calm down is often a great strategy, but it’s critical that you turn back to your partner again, to avoid emotionally disengaging.

Solve your solvable problems – Not all of our differences can be resolved, nor should they be. Learn to accept the things you cannot change and focus on those you are both willing to work on.

Overcome gridlock – Sometimes we must decide whether we want to be right or be happy. Whilst being in a relationship should never mean losing the core of who we are or aspire to be, breaking conflict gridlock often means letting go of some control and allowing ourselves to be changed (for the better) by our relationship

Shared Meanings

Vision & values – It’s important to have a shared vision for your relationship/s so that you and your partner/s can unite to actualise that vision. Our dreams, and the goals that lead toward them, should be informed and guided by the core values we share. We may not hold all the same values as our partner/s. However, finding time to talk about what these might be may help us better understand our levels of compatibility.

The Gottman research, although comprehensive, does not address some culturally specific relationship factors within our diverse LGBTIQ+ community. There is a need for greater understanding and support in areas such as cis/trans and cis/non-binary relationships, polyamory and non-monogamy, kink and BDSM, asexuality and pansexuality. And also the impacts of external and internalised phobias and biases.

Working with a qualified registered counsellor, with lived as well as professional experience can provide that support. They can help navigate the specific challenges of your own unique relationships.

Chris Pye is a Relationship Coach who helps individuals, couples and families to transform conflict and communication difficulties into deeper connections. For more about his work, or to book a free ‘first-step conversation’, go to:

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