I have always been really intrigued by what makes some relationships last and others not. I used to think it was the couples who were still together were the successful ones. I long since realized that staying together is not the mark of a great relationship. It’s the couples who are still happy who have my heart. This realization had me wondering:
What do happy couples do differently?
It’s no doubt that relationships are complex. Two people. Two pasts. And the complexities of two human hearts. How do we take such an amazingly convoluted equation and make it equal love and happiness?
So what separates happy couples from the rest?
It’s their daily rituals.
They have struggles. Just like all other couples, they experience ebbs and flows. The difference is in how they handle the ups and downs. These couples, in essence, have learned and observed different behaviours and habits and consistently (for the most part) live these.
Here are 7 ways that happy couples show up differently for one another:
They choose each other. Everyday. Their relationship isn’t dependent on their commitment to “forever”. It’s broken down moment by moment. They see arguments as an opportunity for growth and understanding. A chance to connect and get deeper. Happy couples turn micro experiences in a macro choice. To be and grow together.
They live independent lives. They have separate goals and dreams. They are individuals who are happy when alone, and choose to be together. Their relationship is another organism; one that they nurture and feed as a team. They still have ladies nights and boys trips. They participate in activities that feed their individual souls. It is through this commitment to themselves that they can fully show up in their relationship.
3. Love is a verb.
Their actions speak so much more than words could never achieve. More importantly though, the intention behind their actions is love. Playing with her hair, stroking his arm, even the way in which they pass the salt has a way of demonstrating kindness. He doesn’t get her flowers because it’s Valentines Day, he gives them to her because it’s Tuesday. She doesn’t surprise him with his favourite latte because he wants one. She surprises him with it because she knows the smile it brings when he feels loved. Love is born through everything that we do. It is not reserved for words. Love, to these couples, is a verb.
4. Fights aren’t just fights.
One of the biggest predictors of divorce from Dr. John Gottman’s research is the way in which we start an argument. Research shows that discussions invariably end the same way they begin. If we start an argument harshly by attacking our partner, we will end up with at least as much tension as we began with, if not more. Happy couples know that even the most difficult conversations can be communicated from a place of kindness. They start their arguments gently. They choose to communicate from a place of love.
5. They win. Together.
When our partner comes home from work and tells us they just got a promotion, our immediate reaction is very predictive of whether our relationship will thrive or fail:
Unhappy couples will respond with a statement like, “Oh great! Now you’re going to have to work more hours!”
Happy couples respond much differently. They allow their partner to savour the wins. They respond with something like, “That’s amazing! You’ve been working so hard. What are you most excited about in your new role?” This allows their partner to savour the excitement. To look back on all the things he/she has done to get to this point. Their home is a place of love and support, and their relationship is a space to celebrate and thrive.
6. Words become worlds.
If number 4 and 5 didn’t stress it enough, I’ll say it again. Communication is the most important skill whether it’s in the boardroom or the bedroom. To be a high functioning partner, we need to be able to ask for what we need, as well as set and honour our boundaries. Our job is to create an environment where it is safe to communicate. That vulnerability is welcomed. Where pain and fear are embraced and pleasure is celebrated.
On top of that, relationship masters use humour constantly. There’s a reason that humour is one the most desired traits in a partner. Happy couples use humour to grow, connect, and have fun in every moment. They use it to diffuse tension and create a space in their relationship to laugh off the little things and allow joy to be experienced. Laughter is truly the best medicine. Happy couples know this.
Listening and sex are more interrelated than we may think. Happy couples take the time to connect on every level. Intimacy is not just sex, but every little interaction that makes each other feel special. The connection to sex? Men generally need sex to feel loved and women need to feel loved to want to have sex. The answer: Meet in the middle. Pun intended.
There’s no magic recipe that will make all couples work. The truth is that we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we all have the ability to learn from those mistakes.
More importantly though, we don’t have to wait for relationship breakdowns to start learning. We can all strive to be better partners. We just need to choose to.
Happy couples don’t have it all figured out. They weren’t born with any different innate skills than you or me. The real secret to becoming a happy couple and to becoming a high performer in a relationship is the willingness to show up and do the work. To commit and choose, day-in and day-out, and be ready to embrace and embody the desire to love and learn. There are times when you will not want to, and it will be in those times that you will need to make the choice.
The truth is that the success of our own relationships is up to us. We have the power to choose that this is the life and love we want. That moment is now.