Having children is meant to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of life, but what's the real price of parenting when it comes to your relationship?

One of the biggest studies ever of relationships in Britain has revealed that if you want to be as happy as possible, you're better off not having kids.

Childless men and women are more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner, the research project by the Open University found.

But researchers also discovered that women without children were the least happy with life overall, whereas mothers were happier than any other group even if their relationships faltered.

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The study, involving interviews and surveys with more than 5,000 people of all ages, statuses and sexual orientations over a two-year period, will be presented at the British Library this week.

Saying "thank you" and giving compliments emerged as one of the most important factor in keeping a relationship healthy across all groups.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the survey also found that people who had been in a long-term relationship before were more likely to know how to sustain their next relationship.

Dr Jacqui Gabb, a senior lecturer in social policy at the Open University who led the survey, told the Daily Telegraph: "This is a shift away from the idea that they are just failed relationships to be put in a cupboard and forgotten about.

"It shows they have learnt something through them, therefore it can be an enriching experience."

There were substantial differences between men and women, with mothers twice as likely to say that their children are the most important person in their life while fathers tended to point to their partners.

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  • Listen To Your Partner

    Listen to and respect your partner. Nothing is more frustrating than feeling you are not heard. Let your significant other know that you hear what they are saying, and that you understand how they are feeling. While you listen, try to stand in your partners shoes in order to understand where they are coming from -- it will help you to resolve differences.

  • Don’t Attack Your Partner

    Never attack your partner with abuse – this includes meanness, cursing, screaming, or threatening to leave them. Treat them with the same respect you would want and ask for yourself.

  • Prioritize Your Intimate Time

    We all get busy and tired, and it's easy to let having sex go as something that doesn't matter -- but it does. Carve out time, even if its planned and not spontaneous, to have a date night of some sort, and have sex. Talk to each other about what you like, about loving them, liking them, appreciating them. Make it a point to hug, hold hands, and nuzzle. These physical displays of affection keep the closeness alive and make both people feel loved.

  • Talk About Money

    Money is the number two source of fights and divorce among couples (second only to sex). Have a monthly conference where you both talk about where you are financially, and where you want to be. Discuss planning for children. Decide which expenses will be a priority when money gets tight (before it gets tight). Look at what was spent, any debt issues, and plans for investing. Set aside the time to go over this -- don’t talk about money off the cuff or in the bedroom.

  • Practice The Art Of Compromise

    Often enough couples don’t agree about many things, but it's the couples who really work to compromise with each other that go the distance. If you come ready for war and intent on winning, in the end you will actually lose your relationship. Instead, come ready to hear each other out and work to accommodate some of what each of you want, or take turns on who gets what they want each time.

  • Make Yourself Happy

    We often believe that it's our partner who could and should make us happy. But really, everyone goes through periods of being unhappy that are not necessarily a reflection of a problem with our relationship, or certainly not a deal breaker. Too often couples break up because they rely on their partner for happiness. If you are emotionally struggling, it's important to look to yourself and examine what might be going on.

  • Protect Your Relationship From Infidelity

    Some situations put yourself or your partner at high risk. Avoid confessing problems in your relationship to a special friend of the opposite sex with whom you feel close. Don’t go out drinking alcohol alone with this "friend" either. If you do develop a friendship, include your spouse in your dinner or activities with them. Don’t act privately with a friend in a way that you never would if your spouse were there.

  • Establish Family Traditions

    Traditions can be the glue that provides a sense of family, belonging and love. Whether it’s about a holiday that you do together a in certain way, or weekend dinners that you create tradition around, having a sense of "this is what we do to celebrate together" not only makes the two of you feel closer, it makes a whole family feel closer.

  • Go To Counseling

    Couples who are struggling often wait until they both really want a divorce before they go to therapy as a last ditch effort so they can tell themselves that they've tried everything. It's very difficult to make headway with a couple that has one foot out the door. Before you feel contempt for your partner, before you're rolling your eyes at everything they say, and before it’s hard to even be in the same room with them, come to therapy with an aim to set yourselves back on track to enjoy your marriage.

Fathers were twice as likely as mothers to cite a lack of sexual intimacy as the thing they disliked most about their relationship.

Age was another crucial factor, with younger and older men having more satisfactory relationships than middle-aged males, and women up to 34-years-old happier with their couple than their older counterparts.

Heterosexual parents reported doing less to "maintain" their relationship than any other group and were the least likely to say "I love you", talk about everything or pursue shared interests.

Meanwhile, non-heterosexual participants were more positive about the quality of their relationship and efforts to maintain it.

The study also found that unmarried parents are slightly happier than married parents.