Over lunch with a friend one day, Kevin was asked about the “secret of your obviously happy and healthy love relationship.”
Kevin responded, “I married a wonderful woman and made the commitment to apply myself to the relationship with the same energy that I place into other important areas of my life: school, work, health, friendships. I didn’t want to be casual about the relationship nor take it for granted. My partner has pretty much done the same thing. Consequently, we make a great team. I can’t imagine being without her.”
Highly successful couples like Kevin and his wife know that making the relationship a top priority is vital. They don’t allow it to derail. They know the ingredients that are necessary to keep each other content, happy, healthy and satisfied. To put it simply, philosopher Paul Tillich observed, “Any deep relationship to another human being requires watchfulness and nourishment.”
So listen up: Here are the 10 secrets of highly successful couples:
1. Successful couples enjoy each other.
It’s just that simple. They like to be together, talk together, do things together. Former Beatle Ringo Starr has been married to his wife Barbara for more than three decades. He says the “secret” to the couple’s longevity is this: “I’m just blessed that she puts up with me. I love the woman. She loves me. There are less down days than up, and we get on really well. We spend a lot of time together. That’s the deal.”
2. Successful couples fight skillfully.
“In conflict, be fair and generous,” is wisdom from The Tao. When two people live together, they are bound to have differences of opinion and disagreements. Successful couples fight but do it skillfully; in a way that leaves the relationship stronger, not weaker. One technique they employ is their choice of words. For example, University of California (Berkeley)
researchers looked at “connected” couples and discovered that they tend to use plural pronouns (“we”, “us” and “ours”) rather than singular pronouns (“I”, “me” and “mine”).
As a result, they were less likely to feel stressed out after the disagreement than couples who used singular pronouns. “Using ‘we language’ during a fight helps couples align themselves on the same team, as opposed to being adversaries,” notes lead author Benjamin Seider.
3. Successful couples seek and offer forgiveness.
They may not forgive and forget, but they do forgive and let it go. When they have done something wrong or hurtful, they offer an apology. When they are the wronged party, they accept the gift of an apology. Successful couples travel the pathway toward forgiving, which is outlined by author Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who cites these four stages for arrival at complete forgiveness
- Forgo: Take a break from thinking about the person or event for a while.
- Forebear: Abstain from punishing, neither thinking about it nor acting on (the offense) in small or large ways. Give a bit of grace to the situation.
- Forget: Refuse to dwell; let go and loosen one’s hold, particularly on memory. To forget is an active — not passive — endeavor.
- Forgive: Make a conscious decision to cease to harbor resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one’s resolve to retaliate.
4. Successful couples are in for the long haul.
“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as life in between,” says professional basketball coach Pat Riley. Successful couples don’t just make promises to each other; they commit. After a marriage that spans 30 years, a couple named Doris and Jim say, “We are happy together because we have lived out our vows — for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.” When Doris was in a serious auto accident a few years ago she remembers that “Jim was there all the way. He’s an incredible husband, the most selfless person. He’s the only person in the world I know I can count on.”
5. Successful couples are positive about each other.
Marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D, says happy couples have relationships “characterized by respect, affection and empathy, and they pay close attention to what’s happening in each other’s lives.” Furthermore, his research reveals that happy and stable couples “made five positive remarks for every one negative remark when they were discussing conflict. In contrast, couples headed for divorce offered less than one positive remark for every single negative remark.”
6. Successful couples learn and grow together.
One couple, after being married for 30 years, decided they would both return to university for master’s degrees in liberal arts. “It took us nearly five years. We had a great time being in class together, studying together, reading together. The program allowed us to expand our horizons as we took courses in religion, politics, literature, history, foreign policy. We even persuaded one professor to let us write a paper together: joint authors!” Partners in successful couples play to each other’s strengths and interests. If one partner becomes more health conscious, the other joins. If one partner takes up a new activity, the other partner becomes supportive and involved. The end result is a stronger emotional bond and a deeper love.
7. Successful couples never stop dating.
That was one of the “secrets” of a happy relationship uncovered by Matthew Boggs and Jason Miller. The duo traveled over 12,000 miles searching and interviewing people they called “marriage masters” — those married 40 years or more. One common element to many marriage masters was their ability to keep the romance going. Some set aside one evening a week for a date, others planned romantic getaways periodically, while others still met most afternoons for conversation at a coffee or tea shop.
8. Successful couples bring each other joy.
In his book, The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own, Ken Druck, Ph.D, tells about a workshop he gave to his wife as a birthday gift. “She had a beautiful voice that she rarely used. What better gift than to unleash the joy she already possessed.” In the workshop, participants of every age and background were encouraged to “vanquish the wagging finger of self-condemnation and sing their hearts out.” The workshop high point was a live concert for family and friends. “With the exception of our children’s births, I can never recall my wife as having been so joyful and happy.”
9. Successful couples adhere to the 60/40 rule.
Boggs and Miller also discovered that “marriage masters” have a high level of selflessness. “Walter” whom they interviewed, told them, “I’ll never forget what my mentor told my wife and me before we got married 42 years ago. He looked at us and said, ‘Most people think marriage is 50/50. It’s not. It’s 60/40. You give 60. You take 40. And that goes for both of you.” It was a principle Walter and his wife adhered to faithfully.
10. Successful couples have shared values.
When asked about her successful relationship of 58 years, “Emma” age 87, smiled and proudly said, “It is quite an achievement. It’s important to have the same basic values. In other words, if you’re a free spender, marry someone who understands that. If you’re frugal, you need to marry someone who understands that because money is one of the stumbling blocks in marriage. Fortunately, we had the same values on most things. We usually had the same goals — we believed in education; we wanted to be moral; we wanted to raise children to be good citizens and to be responsible in terms of finances.”
Poet Robert Browning put the secret to successful couples in a nutshell when he wrote, “Success in marriage is more than finding the right person: It is being the right person.”