Happier couples have many habits and behaviors that differentiate themselves from less happy or unsuccessful couples. The list below includes statistically-verified actions and beliefs that successful couples incorporate into their relationship. If you are not doing at least half of these on a regular basis try instituting just one this week. See if that makes a difference in the overall quality of your relationship. Studies show it probably will. If one works, keep doing it and then consider adding another in the near future.
1. Make trust and forgiveness a cornerstone to your interactions. There is nothing more toxic to a relationship than doubt and bitterness. Unless you are out to get your partner there is little likelihood they are out to get you. So, why be concerned if they are? Whether they playfully flirt with someone else, broke your favorite coffee mug, or said something hurtful in the heat of the moment, it is senseless to let anxieties that were likely born a distant time or past relationship ago get in the way of truly trusting and forgiving your partner.
2. Notice and salute your partner when they do something good. You think to yourself “She looks gorgeous.” “He did a great job driving us to the party without directions.” “That was a delicious meal.” “What a nice thing to say to that stranger.” How many times in a week do you think something positive about your partner and not say aloud what you thought? So, say it! By email, text, looking them in the eye, or phone call tell your partner when he or she has done something you like.
3. Support activities and things your partner wants you as a couple to do and to have. It is tough to lob ideas about what to do or what to buy and always have them shot down, because there is no time, it’ll cost too much, or that thing in green will look really stupid in the living room. C’mon. Unless it is really harmful or truly detrimental to your environment what difference does it make to let your partner get what they want? Is a line in the sand over which movie to watch really worth the possible strife that can arise from being territorial over matters not critical to life?
4. Be honest with your partner about the big issues that bother you. His texting while driving is putting him and you at risk. Her eating habits are causing health problems and getting in the way of a passionate physical relationship. His drinking brings out the ugly side in him and you get in fights after he drinks. Her shopping is driving credit card debt through the roof and imperils your home. These are big things that need to be addressed. They are potentially catastrophic to a relationship’s and individual’s health. They need to be discussed, but in an I-will-help-you-with-this-if-you-help-yourself way. Fighting about big issues renders defensiveness that forms resistance. Ignoring them allows them to fester and poison the love. Addressing them in a supportive, solution-oriented way engenders trust and growth.
5. Don’t bother your partner about the small issues that bother you. There is nothing like complaining about nothing. Here is a conversation I recently overheard between a husband and wife whose marriage is tenuous at best:
She (looking for a knife to cut donuts in half for their kids): “Is there a knife to cut the donuts?” He (as he hands her a knife): “You don’t need a knife for that?” She: “I don’t want to break the donuts. Is this knife clean?” He: “I don’t know.” She (walking over to the counter to find a paper towel to clean knife): “Next time can you hand me a clean knife?” He: “It will just get dirty when you use it.” She: “No it won’t.”
This conversation is typical of a couple who just can’t let things go. Consider this: Your partner’s small, peculiar habits are something you have lived with for months or years. They have not killed you or made your life miserable. Yet, you let them get under your skin and then embitter you to your partner. So, really, who has the most troubling and potentially toxic habit? The partner doing that weird little thing or the partner who boils with frustration after a long, long time living with the quirky habit? Let the little things go. Find humor in the habits that used to drive you nuts.
6. Cultivate common interests and create new ones. Couples that enjoy doing things together have happier relationships. This does not mean that you need to spend every hour together but it does mean that you should share things in life that give your relationship a common bond beyond just being together. In addition, finding new things that excite and unite you helps keep a relationship fresh. There is nothing like each partner experiencing awe or new awareness together.
7. Have fun individually and together. This characteristic is often overlooked on the lists of items that are vital to a satisfying relationship. It is so simple to understand that it needs no explanation. Just remember to do things that are fun!
8. Give without expectation and expect less overall. So often we offer something of ourselves hoping for something in return. Our expectations, which ironically may not have existed until we gave something, can be shattered if we don’t get what we wanted. So, why set yourself up for disappointment in a relationship? Why not give just to give. It is a great way to lift another’s spirit. And, if you get something back—unexpectedly—that is great. If not, while your partner is lifted the gift will lift your spirit too.
Along these lines, if you have been together for a while you should know what to expect from your partner. Except in the case of the bigger problems described above, continuing to expect something other than what reality is dishing up is only going to create disappointment and frustration. Expecting less—or at least not expecting someone to be different just because their inconsequential behavior is rubbing you wrong—sets you up for greater satisfaction with your relationship.
9. Treat your partner well. Give her flowers. Massage his neck. Tell her she is pretty. Tell him he is handsome. Go away for the weekend. Do the dishes for her. Drop everything and make love. Smile at her. Tell him he is a great father. Treat your partner well. Find one thing nice to do—without any expectations—every day and do it.
10. Help your partner treat themselves well. Number nine above is what most people think helps make a good relationship great. But it is not the most important thing you can do. No matter how important it is to treat your partner well it is infinitely more important to help your partner treat himself or herself well. Support your partner’s desire to get fit by giving up some time with them so they can work out, or go work out with them. Enable your partner to take a vacation with friends by watching the kids. Help your partner finish an important project by giving them space to create. When all is said and done we are individually responsible for our own satisfaction and being in a satisfying relationship. You cannot make someone else happy. But, you can give someone the time, tools, and room to help them take care of themselves, to treat themselves well.