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The Seven Things That Happy Couples Do

Working smarter instead of harder for relationship happiness

Why is it that some couples happily go the distance and so many others throw in the relationship towel along the way? The answer is that relationship happiness does not occur by accident. Happy couples work wisely at building and maintaining their love. They realize that relationships left to being on autopilot tend to sway off course and crash. As discussed in my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, lets now look at seven things happy couples do:

1. Keep it real in how they see the relationship

Happy couples hold realistic expectations. By this I mean that they know that relationships are not just about sunshine and rainbows. Beyond that initial period of infatuation where each are walking on water in the eyes of one other, intimate partners know that relationships cycle with ups and downs. Realizing this, intimate partners support each other during the downs as well as the ups.  

2. Work smart versus hard on their relationship

It is important for couples be ready to work to maintain and grow their relationships. Houses, cars, gardens, and virtually everything—especially relationships—need work to maintain them. It is important to address problems and misunderstandings sooner than later, otherwise you are on the "bottle it up and explode later plan."  We all know that does not work out too well! Bottom line: Neglect the relationship, and it will often go downhill. Taking care of your relationship along the way, however, means working smarter instead of harder, to maintain it. 

3. Make time together a priority

We are pulled in so many directions in our hectic lives and in this digital age. That said, there is no substitute for shared quality time together. Spending time together creates emotional deposits to keep your relationship running at a surplus of positive emotions versus  a deficit. For those in long distance relationships, using electronic media such as FaceTime and Skype, can keep you connected if you use this resource wisely. 

4. Be individuals as well as a couple

Spending time apart, within reason, is an important and healthy part of a happy relationship. Missing each other is a sign of relationship strength. This helps remind you how important your partner is to you.

5. Lead with accepting your partner—he likely is who he is for the long haul. 

In Why Can't You Read My Mind, I discuss toxic thinking patterns that get in the way of loving relationships. It is easier to change how you view your each other than each partner expecting the other to change. This will greatly reduce how frequently you argue. So instead repeatedly telling your partner he never puts away the dishes, stop complaining and try doing it yourself. True, this may not solve the problem. Then again, your partner may just notice your effort and make more of an effort himself around the house. 

6. Communicate!

In the spirit of the classic Billy Joel song, "Tell Her [or him] About It," a lack of quality communication is the number one reason even good relationships fail. Remember that empathy, not love, is the true emotional glue that holds couples together. Empathize with your significant other even though you don’t agree. This will take your partner off of the defensive. Once your partner makes this shift, it becomes easier for him or her to hear your thoughts and feelings.

7. Don’t take your partner for granted.

This one is last, but definitely not least. I recall a man I saw for counseling whose wife had left him. He regretted that he did not regularly say (or show), “I love you,” because he had been so internally preoccupied with his own inner anxieties. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to express your feelings of appreciation with your partner—he or she will be thankful that you did.

Yes, the seven steps described above take work. But doing them will help you work smarter than waiting till the eleventh hour when it may already be too late to save your relationship—no matter how hard you work at that point. 

For parenting concerns with challenging children and teens, check out Dr. Jeff's second edition of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, endorsed by the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post-doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the Today Show, NBC, and public radio, among others. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books. See more on Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D.