'Soulmate thinking' could be standing in the way of a lasting marriage, research shows - here are 5 things to remember for a happy relationship

Ignore Hollywood movies, successful marriages are made not found

A man and woman hugging in a kitchen
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If you want lasting love then it might be time to stop looking for your soulmate - research has found that the happiest couples are the ones that put the work in.

Marriages are hard work, especially when you're parents. They require communication, boundaries and organisation - and there's not always time for this in between the school runs, night feeds and all the other jobs that keep tiny humans alive. So, it's normal for you to feel disconnected from your partner after having a baby - and if you're wondering how to fix your marriage or how to spice up a relationship, then you're not alone.

But you'd be forgiven if you were expecting life to be all puppies and roses after getting married and having kids. After all, that's what the movies have taught us. In fact, A 2021 YouGov poll of nearly 15,000 adults found that 60 per cent of respondents believe in the idea of soulmates. But this 'soulmate thinking' can actually make it more difficult to form a loving and lasting marriage, new research has shown.

A study from the Wheatley Institute looked at 615 couples and found that couples who engage in proactive behaviours such as showing compassion to each other, spending meaningful time together, regularly engaging in acts of kindness, and participating in regular maintenance behaviours to improve their relationship were the most likely to flourish.

In fact, high-connection marriages have three times higher scores on proactive behaviours than low-connection couples, specifically in spending meaningful time together (71 per cent vs 19 per cent), doing acts of kindness for each other (72 per cent vs 18 per cent), and forgiving offences (70 per cent vs 21 per cent).

Meanwhile, spouses in high-connection marriages score twice as high as spouses in low-connection marriages on life satisfaction (63 per cent vs 27 per cent) and life meaning (60 per cent vs 30 per cent).

The data led the researchers to conclude that "Enduring connection in marriage results more from the intentional efforts of the spouses than it does from spontaneous love and emotional spark."

Two happy men laughing in the kicthen together

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Jason Carroll, the Director of the Family Initiative at the Wheatley Institute and lead author of the report, said: "The problem with the soulmate model of marriage is that it provides a deeply flawed conception of how to achieve this aspiration. This is because soulmate beliefs tend to place relationship success outside of one’s agency or choices."

Meanwhile, Adam Galovan, a professor at the University of Alberta and a co-author of the report, said: "At their core, soulmate beliefs provide a backwards depiction of the proper sequence of healthy relationship development. Such beliefs suggest that someone exists as your One-and-Only before you have even met. However, the findings of our study illustrate that oneness in marriage is primarily made, not found."

In other words, rather than finding your soulmate, Galovan suggests finding someone that you like and get along with and seeing how the relationship develops rather than worrying about finding 'the One'. Then, once both partners have committed to the relationship, he says, "They should put effort into building a ‘soulmate’ relationship with the person they’ve committed to".

And if you're in need of pointers that will help you put aside 'soulmate thinking', the researchers have offered five solutions:

  1. Avoiding a consumer approach to relationships: This refers to staying in a relationship that might not be right until you feel someone better has come along.
  2. Fostering realistic expectations about relationships: Don't expect your partner to be the source of all your happiness and the solution to all your problems - shifting your mindset can lead to a happier relationship.
  3. Developing a mature understanding of love: A healthy, secure, and stable relationship is one where both individuals have a deep, emotionally intimate connection - not one that depends solely on big romantic gestures.
  4. Following healthy dating trajectories: A healthy relationship takes time and effort to grow - it doesn't move too fast but it also doesn't slow down and become stagnant.
  5. Maintaining optimism while resolving break-up: 'Soulmate thinking' can make break-ups feel even harder, but it's important to remain positive.

In related news, if you're feeling like you've gone off sex or struggle to connect with your other half, find out how explaining the mental load to your partner can help. Elsewhere, here are five signs you're parenting your partner.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.