The Newlywed Game Was On to Something: Knowledge About Partner is Key in Relationships

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If you ever turn to a therapist for advice on relationship skills, he or she is bound to tell you that communication is key. But a recent study shows that in fact, other more practical skills are predictors of overall satisfaction.

Knowledge of one’s partner and life skills are much better predictors of average satisfaction across relationships, according to Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein and student Rachel Smith, who have just presented their study at the Western Psychological Association in Los Angeles. Knowledge of one’s partner includes his or her preferences, dress size, hopes and dreams. Life skills refers to paying the bills on time or managing stress. “To me it shows that therapists need to rethink how they’re working with their clients,” Epstein says.

(More on TIME.com: How well do you know your best friend?)

His advice?  The therapist could turn to the couple and ask, “How much do you really know about each other?” and give clients assignments. Epstein would ask them to go home and find out ten things about each other, talk about what those were and whether there were any surprises.

What shocked Epstein perhaps the most was that 40% of the couples he studied had no idea about one another’s hopes and dreams.

Epstein also wondered whether there were any differences in ethnicity, and the study shows there were. Hispanics had higher relationship skills than any other group. And females outscored males in four areas: communication, self-management, knowledge of partner and sex and romance.

Scores are predictive of how satisfied people are in relationships and predict whether they are married or not. People who had been married were likely to have higher scores, as were people who were in a relationship at the time of the study.

Surprisingly, age didn’t seem to matter. “What actually helped is if they had some sort of counseling or training in relationship skills,” he says. “In school we’re taught things like math intensively for years, but we get no training on relationship skills. In that sense they are not focusing on some things which they should be focusing on.”

So it seems if you want to have a successful relationship, the first step might be to check your partner’s dress size, and make sure you’ve paid the bills. Or you can carry out Epstein’s test online for a quick measure of your “seven key relationship competencies.”

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of TV’s greatest newlyweds)

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