We all want better relationships with the people that matter most to us, whether that’s with a spouse or partner, a parent or family member, or a friend or colleague. What does the latest research say about improving the quality of our close relationships? Here are four recent insights from psychological research that shed new light on this important question.

#1: A healthy relationship with others starts with a healthy relationship with ourselves

Psychotherapists often say that good relationships start with the relationship we have with ourselves — and that people with insecure attachment styles, low self-esteem or self-worth, or depression will struggle to maintain strong connections with others.

How do you improve the relationship you have with yourself? New research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology suggests that incorporating techniques from lifestyle medicine and positive psychology can help. On the lifestyle medicine side of things, researchers recommend spending eight hours per night in bed without a device. They also recommend increasing your daily consumption of plant-based foods and doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise or walking 10,000 steps per day.

On the positive psychology side of things, researchers suggest going out of your way to give someone a genuine compliment every day. They also suggest spending 15 minutes a day reflecting on things that went well and taking time to forgive people who have hurt you.

#2: Find a common goal

The pandemic made it hard for many couples to stay connected. What were successful couples doing to overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19? A recent study conducted by researchers at the relationship coaching company, Relish, found that successful couples were more likely to:

  1. Spend quality time together
  2. Plan for the future
  3. Focus on goals

On the other hand, couples that reported the most relationship difficulty during the pandemic were more likely to engage in behaviors such as doing nothing, over-focusing on the kids, spending inordinate amounts of time alone, and connecting with old friends to the point that it interferes with family responsibilities.

#3: Find ways to express, and reinforce, commitment and appreciation

A recent study of over 11,000 romantic couples found that people who viewed their partner as (1) highly committed to the relationship and (2) highly appreciative of their partner’s love were most likely to be in healthy long-term relationships. Commitment and appreciation mattered more to the quality of a romantic relationship than other factors such as trust, support, passion, sexual frequency, and affection.

4#: Respect and honor your differences

Personality differences should be celebrated not minimized. A recent study published in the Journal of Personality shows just how wide the personality gap is, at least when it comes to gender. Analyzing over 31,000 personality tests, the researchers found that knowing only the personality profile of an individual made it possible to correctly guess his or her gender approximately 85% of the time.

Which traits showed the largest divergence? The researchers found that women scored higher on the personality dimensions of sensitivity, anxiety, apprehension, warmth, complexity, and openness to change, while men scored higher on dutifulness, emotional stability, and assertiveness. The largest difference was in the sensitivity dimension. Women were consistently more sensitive, aesthetic, sentimental, intuitive, and tender‐minded while men were more utilitarian, objective, unsentimental, and tough‐minded.