Imagine your partner routinely forgets special events such as Valentine’s Day or your birthday. This year, though, he makes a romantic effort to acknowledge the day.

New research suggests you will feel better about your relationship if you focus on his good-faith attempt rather than his past failings.

In the study, Northwestern University scientists found that the more you believe your partner is capable of change and perceive that he or she is trying to improve, the more secure and happy you will feel in your relationship.

Researchers say the positive approach is beneficial even if you think your partner could still do more.

“Many of us tend to under-appreciate our partner’s efforts to improve the relationship, simply because we do not have enough faith in those attempts,” said graduate student Chin Ming Hui, the lead author of the study.

“When we see those efforts in a positive light, we can enjoy our relationship much more.”

In this study, romantic couples were separated and asked to rate how much their partner was trying to improve his or her relationship-oriented characteristics, such as patience, understanding and being a good listener.

Three months later, the same couples were asked to rate their partner’s current standing on these relationship-oriented characteristics and their overall feelings about the relationship.

Researchers discovered that the more you think your partner is incapable of changing, the more your partner’s sincere efforts fail to improve the relationship.

“If you don’t believe that your partner is capable of changing his or her fundamental characteristics, even when he or she is working hard to try to improve your relationship, you can actually end up discounting these efforts,” said Daniel C. Molden, Ph.D., senior author of the study.

Researchers believe that even if you are skeptical that your partner can change, becoming aware of their efforts can help you appreciate their attempts and help your relationship improve.

“A secret to building a happy relationship is to embrace the idea that your partner can change, to give him or her credit for making these types of efforts and to resist blaming him or her for not trying hard enough all of the time,” Molden said.

This study was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Source: Northwestern University