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Bees do it, machines know it: Western University-led study hints at key to relationship satisfaction

The study provides answers to the question: ‘What predicts how happy I will be with my relationship partner?’. Peter Spiro / Getty Images

Researchers involved in a Western University-led international study have found that the most reliable predictor of a relationship’s success is partners’ belief that the other person is fully committed.

A statement issued by the university, which is located in London Ont., said this is the “first-ever systematic attempt at using machine-learning algorithms to predict people’s relationship satisfaction.”

“Satisfaction with romantic relationships has important implications for health, well-being and work productivity,” said Western psychology professor Samantha Joel.

”But research on predictors of relationship quality is often limited in scope and scale, and carried out separately in individual laboratories.”

Read more: Poor sleep tied to multiple chronic conditions: Western University study

The machine-learning study is conducted by Joel, Paul Eastwick from University of California, Davis, as well as 84 other scholars internationally.

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More than 11,000 couples participated.

In the study, an application of artificial intelligence (AI) is used to comb through various combinations of predictors to find the most robust predictors of relationship satisfaction.

It provides answers to the question: ‘What predicts how happy I will be with my relationship partner?’

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According to the study, relationship-specific predictors such as perceived partner commitment, appreciation, and sexual satisfaction account for nearly half of variance in relationship quality.

Individual characteristics, which describe a partner rather than a relationship, explains 21 per cent of variance in relationship quality, the study said.

The top five individual characteristics with the strongest predictive power for relationship quality are satisfaction with life, negative affect, depression, avoidant attachment and anxious attachment.

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Read more: Open relationships can be ‘healthy’ for some couples: study

Joel notes she was surprised the study showed that one partner’s individual differences predictors – like life satisfaction, depression or agreeableness – explained only five per cent of variance in the other partner’s relationship satisfaction.

“In other words, relationship satisfaction is not well-explained by your partner’s own self-reported characteristics,” Joel said.

The current datasets were sampled from Canada, the United States, Israel, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand.