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7 Secrets of Happy Couples

The most crucial fundamentals for any relationship.

Source: g-stockstudio/Shutterstock

We all want loving and successful relationships, but we don't always know how to achieve them. Over time, negative cycles can develop and loving feelings can turn into frustration, disappointment, and even rage. The more you try to get your partner to do what you want and need, the less he or she seems inclined to do so. Or maybe you're in the honeymoon stage of a relationship and want to know how to make the good feelings last.

Wherever you're at, research shows that certain ways of relating and being together can increase your chances of maintaining love and togetherness for the long haul. Being loving toward your partner, expressing affection and appreciation, and spending time together in activities that build intimacy can create the glue that holds your relationship together.

Following are 7 practical suggestions based on what researchers have found when they've studied happy couples.

1. Listen with an Open Mind and Heart

Unhappy couples don't listen to each other. Over time, they get into negative cycles of communication, such as criticize/defend, demand/withdraw, or attack-counterattack. The result is that nobody gets heard or understood; partners feel judged, criticized, or dismissed, rather than affirmed; and there is no buildup of good will. Happy couples are more present with each other and make an effort to listen and take each other’s needs seriously. They make an effort to validate each other—communicating that a partner's perspective is understandable and valid, given their personal history or current circumstances. This creates a sense of being on the same side and having each other's backs.

2. Strive to Build Intimacy

Unhappy couples may seem almost like roommates. There is an emotional distance and lack of intimacy, with communication focused on mundane aspects of life like picking up the kids and running errands. A sense of being attractive and desirable to your partner gets lost. Further, unhappy couples may communicate mostly by fighting and arguing, by making sarcastic comments, or by pointedly ignoring each other. By contrast, happy couples prioritize emotional and physical intimacy, creating a positive, self-reinforcing cycle. They make time for each other, even if it's just a few minutes, by having greeting rituals when they leave and enter the house; hugging; and checking in with each other during the day in person or via text or e-mail. Happy couples express affection and appreciation often in words or gestures.

3. Repair Fights

Unhappy couples don’t resolve conflict. Arguments turn into ongoing hostility or a silent treatment that can go on for days. By contrast, happy couples tend to reach out to each other after fighting to show they still care, even if the issue isn’t fully resolved. Reaching out can be speaking in an affectionate tone of voice, making a positive comment, using humor, smiling, suggesting doing a fun or relaxing activity together, apologizing, or indicating understanding of the others’ perspectives. Repair attempts help your partner calm down and see the bigger picture. And then fights are seen as just temporary rifts, not chasms in the relationship!

4. Act Courteously

Unhappy couples don’t exhibit courtesy and sensitivity in the way they treat each other. By contrast, happy couples communicate a basic respect and warmth for each other, in lots of small ways, every day. They may hug goodbye, bring each other coffee, or offer to help each other out. They treat their partner respectfully in front of other people, even when they are angry. Happy couples also don’t engage in character assassination. They stick to the issue at hand, and don’t bring up every unpleasant thing their partner ever did. They don’t use negative labels or name-calling, and they give their partner the benefit of the doubt and assume goodwill.

5. Have a Sense of Partnership

Individuals in unhappy couples don’t consider how their decisions are going to affect their partners, or they may hide important information from their partners to avoid a fight. This creates problems with trust. In happy couples, people act like partners. They put the relationship and family first most of the time, even if they have to sacrifice some things they may enjoy as an individual. They check with each other before making big purchases or plans with extended family. They allow their partner’s wishes and needs to influence them, rather than digging in their heels.

6. Support Each Other’s Happiness

Individuals in unhappy couples don’t focus on making their partners happy, or may be convinced that their partners will be unhappy no matter what they do. In happy couples, people actively think about their partner’s happiness. They act thoughtfully, celebrate each other’s successes, and willingly do extra work to help their partners get ahead. Some research shows that your reaction to your partner’s good news is just as important, or perhaps more important, than your reaction to their bad news. When you get excited your partner’s personal, sporting, and professional achievements, or happy events in their families—when you are proud of them and show it—you build the foundations of long-term love.

7. Make Time for Sexuality

Sex can be the glue that holds a relationship together when it’s strained by other factors. It’s important to maintain consistent sexual intimacy so it doesn’t get lost when you’re tired from work or raising kids. Having a date night once a month or taking a weekend away can help get you in the mood. It can also help to deliberately focus on your partner as a sexual being and on what attracts you to them—be it their looks, tone of voice, sense of humor, or kindness. Open communication and responsiveness to the other person’s needs go a long way toward building the trust that underlies true physical and emotional intimacy.

If you are unhappy in your relationship, it may be time to try a new approach. Following these suggestions can launch new, positive cycles that build on each other. Couples therapy can also help you get unstuck from negative cycles and begin to grow a new and better relationship together.

To learn more about why relationships fail, read:

To learn more about healing and repairing relationships, read:

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a Psychologist in Mill Valley, California, and expert on relationships, mindfulness, and positive psychology. She provides workshops and speaking engagements for organizations, life coaching, and psychotherapy for individuals and couples in person and via distance technologies. She regularly appears on radio shows, and as an expert source in national media.

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