Nothing in this world is more difficult than love.
And nothing is more worth it.
A happy couple is not a ‘perfect couple’ that comes together, but an imperfect couple that learns to enjoy each other’s differences, and works together every day to create something special. In other words, a great relationship isn’t luck and doesn’t just happen – it requires effort and care to endure and evolve in ways that keep both partners fulfilled.
Over the past decade, between the two of us, Marc and I have read hundreds of books on relationships, coached thousands of couples who were struggling to find happiness in their relationships, and interacted with over 100,000 subscribers (subscribe here) who continue to ask us questions and tell us stories on a daily basis about their relationships.
All of this has given us keen insight into the specific behaviors that make two human beings happy as a couple. We’ve literally watched couples go from “ready to break up” to being “on cloud nine” in a matter of weeks, simply by making subtle, effective changes to their daily habits.
Not surprisingly though, once these couples get it figured out, their newfound relationship habits become second nature to them, and thus, they never talk about them. Bystanders may witness their public displays of affection and contentment, but remain clueless as to the source of their happiness. So that’s precisely what I want to discuss today – the habits happy couples have, but never talk about.
- They practice self-care as individuals. – Relationships don’t create joy, they reflect it. Joy comes from within. Relationships are simply mirrors of the combined joy that two people have as individuals. What you see in the mirror is what you see in your relationships. Your disappointments in your partner often reflect your disappointments in yourself. Your acceptance of your partner often reflects your acceptance of yourself. Thus, the first step to having a healthy relationship with someone else is to have a healthy relationship with yourself.
- They stand together and refuse to let outsiders call the shots. – Relationships don’t always make sense, especially from the outside. So don’t let outsiders run your relationship for you. If you’re having an issue with your partner, work it out with THEM and no one else. You have to live your own lives your own way… that’s all there is to it. Each of us has a unique fire in our heart for that one special person. It’s our duty, and ours alone, to decide if a relationship is right for us. If you and your partner both agree that it is right, IT IS, and it’s worth working on, together.
- They respect their relationship as being a unique, incomparable bond. – Don’t compare your relationship to anyone else’s – not your parent’s, friend’s, coworker’s, or that random couple whose relationship seems perfect. Every couple makes their own love rules, love agreements, and love habits. Just focus on what you two share, and make your unique bond the best it can be. And keep in mind that all relationships have their ups and downs – they do not ride at a continuous blissful high. Working together through the hard times will make your relationship stronger in the end.
- They are intimate about everything. – Sex is not love. Especially in the beginning of a relationship, attraction and pleasure in sex are often mistaken for love. Sex is good, sex is great, but it’s the easy part. Intimacy is what makes relationships last. It requires honest communication and openness about concerns, fears and sadness, as well as hopes, dreams and happiness.
- They accept each other, without trying to change each other. – The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated as is. Sometimes we try to be sculptors, constantly carving out of our significant others the image of what we want them to be – what we think we need, love, or desire. But these actions and perceptions are against reality, against their benefit and ours, and always end in disappointment, because it does not fit them. The foundation of love is to let those we care about be unapologetically themselves, and to not distort them to fit our own egotistical ideas of who they should be. Otherwise we fall in love only with our own fantasies, and thus miss out entirely on their true beauty. So save your relationship from needless stress. Instead of trying to change your partner, give them your support and grow together. (Read The Mastery of Love.)
- They make uninterrupted time for each other. – If you neglect your relationship, your relationship will neglect you too. With busy schedules we often forget to relax and enjoy the great company we have. In relationships distance is not measured in miles, but in affection. Two people can be right next to each other and yet miles apart. So don’t ignore the one you love, because lack of concern often hurts more than angry words.
- They say what they mean and mean what they say to each other. – Your partner is not a mind reader. Share your thoughts. Give them the information they need rather than expecting them to know the unknowable. The more that remains unspoken, the greater the risk for problems. Start communicating clearly. Don’t try to read their mind, and don’t make them try to read yours. Most problems, big and small, within a relationship, start with bad communication.
- They listen intently before replying. – Don’t listen so you can reply, listen to understand. Open your ears and mind to your partner’s concerns and opinions without judgment. Look at things from your partner’s perspective as well as your own.
- They don’t play games with each other’s heads and hearts. – Cheating and lying aren’t struggles, they’re reasons couples break up. Because great things fall apart quite easily when they’ve been held together with lies. The truth is, relationships don’t hurt; lying, cheating and twisting reality until it plays with someone’s emotions is what hurts. Promises mean everything, but after they’re broken, sorry means nothing (at least initially). So never mess with your partner’s feelings just because you’re unsure of your own. If you are unsure in any way, be sure to say so. Always be open and honest. And remember that when the truth is replaced by silence, silence becomes a lie too. (Marc and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- They practice the golden rule in their relationship. – In a healthy relationship, you get what you put in. You get nothing less and nothing more. There is no room for selfishness. If you want love, give love. If you want to see a smile, give a smile. Don’t be concerned with who’s right; be concerned with loving and being loved, caring and being cared for.
- They cheer for each other. – Having an appreciation for how amazing your partner is leads to good places – productive, fulfilling, peaceful places. So be happy for them when they’re making progress. Cheer for their victories. Celebrate their accomplishments, and encourage their goals and ambitions. Challenge them to be the best they can be. And be thankful for their blessings, openly.
- They review and discuss their goals and dreams often. – For couples, it’s two against the world. Having regular discussions with each other about goals, dreams, passions and the future, in a way that’s positive and inspiring, will not only bring you closer together, but will also bring your collective desires closer to reality.
- They negotiate and compromise on joint matters. – Since people’s needs are fluid and change over time, and life itself demands change too, the inner workings of good relationships are negotiated and re-negotiated all the time. And oftentimes a two-way compromise is the best solution.
- They refuse to play the blame game. – Blaming accomplishes nothing. Take responsibility for your actions. Take responsibility for your relationship – the good times and the bad. Work with your partner. Communicate. Blaming them is a copout that accomplishes nothing. Either you both take equal ownership of the problems you two encounter, or the problems will own both of you.
- They don’t blow things out of proportion. – People make mistakes. Crap happens. There’s no reason to shatter your relationship into pieces over spilt milk. One way to check if something is worth mulling over is to ask yourself this question: “Will this matter in one year’s time?” If not, then let it go immediately.
- They tame their anger the minute they feel heated. – Heated arguments are a waste. Your partner doesn’t have to be wrong for you to be right. There are many roads to what’s right. And most of the time it just doesn’t matter that much. When you feel anger surging up and you want to yell that vulgar remark on the tip of your tongue, just close your mouth and walk away. Don’t let your anger get the best of you. Give yourself some time to calm down and then gently discuss the situation.
- They apologize to each other immediately. – Making up after an argument is central to every happy relationship. A simple, honest “I’m sorry” is usually the most important step. We all make mistakes, but our willingness to admit it doesn’t always come naturally. So remember, it doesn’t really matter who’s right – it’s what’s right that matters. If your relationship is important to you, an apology is always right.
- They practice patience and forgiveness daily. – Apologies must be backed by sincere patience and forgiveness. Because no matter how honest and kind you try to be, you will occasionally step on your partner’s toes. And this is precisely why patience and forgiveness are so vital to relationships. Patience is simply the ability to let your light shine on the one you love, even after your fuse has blown. And forgiveness is knowing deep down that they didn’t mean to blow your fuse in the first place.
- They make daily sacrifices for each other. – Intimate bonds are tied with true love, and true love involves attention, awareness, discipline, effort, and being able to care about someone and sacrifice for them, continuously, in countless petty little unsexy ways, every day. You put your arms around them and love them regardless, even when they’re not very lovable. And of course they do the same for you. If you want to know what a healthy relationship is, it’s one where two people wake up every morning and say, “This is worth it. You all are worth it. I am happy you are in my life.” It’s about sacrifice. It’s about knowing that some days you will have to do things you dislike to make the one you love smile, and feeling perfectly delighted to do so. (Read The Love Dare.)
- They respect each other’s humanness. – Even the happiest couples on Earth are still just two humans. And all humans are imperfect. At times, the confident lose confidence, the patient misplace their patience, the generous act selfish, and the knowledgeable second guess what they know. It happens to the best of us. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, and we get caught off guard. We stumble, we slip, and we spin out of control sometimes. But that’s the worst of it; we all have our moments. Most of the time we’re remarkable. So stand beside the one you love through their trying times of imperfection. If you aren’t willing to, you really don’t deserve to be around for their perfect moments either.
By compiling this list I’m not suggesting that these are the only keys to being a happy couple, I’m simply shedding light on some common habits that can make all the difference in the world. A great deal of happiness in our relationships is due to intentional activity. Therefore, it’s possible for us to significantly improve our love life simply by altering what we choose to do every day. And much of what we do, both as couples and as individuals, we do on autopilot based on our habits.
Bottom line: Happy couples love each other. And loving someone isn’t just about saying it every day – it’s about showing it every day in every way.
What else would you add to the list? Are there any specific habits or actions that have made you and your partner happier as a couple? Leave a comment below and let us know what’s been working for you.
Photo by: Jose Mediavilla
After 8 years, we are still learning and building based on many of these qualities. It takes time, work and effort and each of these habits builds and changes as we grow. Different sacrifices or means of communication develop in different stages in life. It is fulfilling to be intentional about keeping a healthy relationship. Thank You!
Sean Morin says
Number 4 is a great reminder for me. As a guy, I always need to work on my willingness to be more intimate with my feelings and open about my thoughts!
In response to your question, one habit that has helped my marriage is the self-care principle you discus in number 1. When you take the time out to love yourself, you can share that love and happiness together. The self-love section of your book has helped me and my wife out tremendously in this area. We’ve actually highlighted several quotes and we both use them as self-care affirmations.
The truth is, it starts with us. So often, we want to fix the other person, but we don’t take the time to love ourselves or fix how we react to who we believe our partner should be.
Thanks for another great post 🙂
Kevin B. says
Some of the small bits of relationship advice in this post hit home in a big way. Thank you for keeping me thinking, and keeping my mind straight.
After being married for 27 years this year, I can honestly say that the honest communication you mention in your 4th and 7th points is the key in my marriage. If two people are on the same page, they can get through almost anything together. You don’t have to always agree, but you do have to know where each other stand.
We respect each other’s differences. We see each other through the eyes of a child, we still date, we have time outs and breathers. We pray together. And we laugh at one another and each other. We live each day mindfully and don’t obsess too much of tomorrow.
What a wonderful compilation.
You totally nailed it with each and every one of the habits.
There’s something else that helped me develop an exceptional relationship with my wife.
Never criticize my wife. Put her always first.
At first it might seem impossible. Or even a too big sacrifice of yourself.
But let me explain.
You are well aware of the outcome of criticizing your spouse. And when she feels she’s not at the top of your priorities. There’s no escaping it.
She becomes gloomy. She frowns at you. And sometimes you even don’t know why.
So that’s exactly what happened to me.
But when I started putting her first. And when I stopped criticizing her. Our relationships sky rocketed to an entirely new level.
Now my wife has a constant smile on her face. She laughs regularly.
And in this situation it’s easy for me to notice when I screw up. When I become egotistic. When I start criticizing her.
But when I don’t screw up, I don’t even have to ask my wife to have alone time for my creative tasks. She PUSHES me to have that. She’s happy with me pursuing my own dream and passion.
These 2 habits in addition to those you mentioned have helped me maintain a wonderful relationship with my wife.
Thanks Marc and Angel for a great post!
I always take something from your messages and this one is no different. Being open and honest is such a key point. I’ve come to learn after 17 years of marriage you have to let each other in, even to those places you’d much rather keep hidden. Allow eachother to be vulnerable. It’s in those deepest darkest moments we can learn from one another and grow. As one who is not comfortable sharing emotions I’ve found when I do I am letting my walls down to allow the opportunity to see the real me. The mind reading part is so on point. So, many times I’ve talked to friends about situations they are having and when I’ve asked if they’ve exressed this to their partner the answer is usually no. Your partner has to be the first person you share intimate details of your life with. When you can it expresses so much more than having a conversation it says I value your opinion, you are important to me, you make me feel safe. Safety and security are also key factors. We all need to feel safe with the one we love. I could go on forever, lol. Thank you for your wonderful articles.
Marc and Angel, I just wanted to say thank you for all the posts you keep sending me via email… I love reading them as they are a gentle reminder of the important things I sometimes forget!!
Your book is fantastic in every way too, so inspiring and perfect for picking up and putting down when time is short.
Wishing you both all the very best and keep up the amazing work,
Gautam thakur says
Marc and Angel,
You two rock once again with the tips you’re sharing!
I would like to add you must feel safe and secure in your relationship. If you don’t feel safe than most likely you will not open up. You have to feel your spouse has your best interests at heart. A relationship where your feelings and opinions are valued no matter what. After 17 years of marriage and being emotionally unavailable at times has proven that if your partner doesn’t know what your feeling it’s impossible for them to understand you at a deeper level. It has always been hard for me to open up but, when I did it showed a side of me that my spouse needed to see. I don’t always have it together, I am flawed, I have weaknesses, I am human. Thank you for such a great post as always.
David Rapp says
Your choice in a partner is the LARGEST, MOST IMPORTANT decision in your life. Its not the house, the car or any other thing you can purchase.
I am not the poster child for a great husband. I went through a massive medical situation that greatly altered who I am and how I think in 2006. It was not for the better. I blamed God and punished my wife through repeated stupid actions. I was even in a psychiatric hospital for suicidal thoughts.
Only now, after 9 years of medical therapy and intense self-work am I coming around to my old self..but I am still far away from where I want to be.
My wife has hung in there, through all of it. But when its quiet, and she looks me in the eye and says “I still miss the old David” I have no answer.
Do not be me. I went off my own deep end, and took a lot of people down with me. Looking back, I should have called out for help loudly and proudly, because even now friends and family tell me how much they wanted to assist but did not even know what was happening.
Fighting during confrontation is the biggest abuse in relationships, silence is a very close second.
Do not be silent.
David Rapp, you are a very brave man. I would just like to say to you to take one day at a time. The old self you once were may never be back the way you were, but the new self you are becoming is true dedication and love. You and your wife should be proud. One day at a time. Take care.
A tip I would share is always take care of your partner’s needs. If you always think of their feelings first and how things will impact them before you, and your partner does the same for you…both your needs are being met by one another.
And I totally agree with the listening to understand not listening to reply… it is a hard one because our first reaction is to want to fix or offer solutions.
Lynne @ 365 Days of Baking and More says
Such great reminders, thank you.
Number 2 is the one I’ve always struggled with, but during our nearly 25 years of marriage I’ve noticed that we’re always at our best when I’m not allowing our parents, siblings or friends influence our relationship. I didn’t marry anyone else, I married him.
My husband, our marriage and our love for each other are precious gifts and I know I’m very, very blessed.
Lina Njoroge says
Dear Marc and Angel,
Thank you for yet another insightful article and I always learn something new from all of your articles. Even though I am not in a relationship right now, some of the information in this article is very helpful and I was thinking of how I can improve on my relationships with others, especially those close to me. And, when I do get to meet that ‘special someone’ someday, I will definitely have this to help along that journey.
Thank you for all you do!
Pat Hardy says
If each of you puts the other first, you’re bound to have a happy marriage. Marriage is not 50/50, contrary to public perception, and if your relationship is based on honesty, from the beginning, it makes putting the other first pretty easy. Honesty=no surprises!
Going on 54 years, and I’m still wild about Tom Hardy! Love is not time-bound! I personally think it is the only thing in life that is eternal.
Absolutely True things that you’ve listed here. Very nicely presented. Thank you for reminding us.
Thank you. I am still struggling with my husband on most of these points.. I don’t know if I can call this a failure or that this marriage of 2 years will just not work out. We’re trying…
Maya, where do you stand two years down the road?
Laughter. You need to celebrate the happy moments with laughter, and find joy in what your partner finds joy in.
Just like children, you need to take turns in the preferred activity, or restaurant. Try not to get too caught up in what you want. I think we should all try to spend some time each day making our partner feel happy and like they’re doing a good job as a spouse.
And most importantly, learn to forget the disagreements. I think the best relationships might have remembered that they fought a month or so ago, but it’s when you can’t remember what the fight is about that it speaks volumes about your relationship. It means you aren’t hung up on who was wrong and who was right, or about holding grudges to only be reawakened later.
Don’t be afraid to be the one that loves more. This puts you in the mental frame to give everything you can to your partner and your relationship. If you don’t feel like you can be the one that loves more, you may not be with the right person for you. Don’t be with some that you can’t be your best self with.
Cole N. says
This is really great, thank you. Before reading this, I always felt that I loved my partner more. And I saw it as a negative quality. Almost a way for me to complain that my partner wasn’t matching my love tit for tat. Which is silly. We’re different people. He loves me in the best way he knows how. And I love him in the best way I know how, even if that means my way is a little more expressive. Doesn’t mean his love is any less significant. And you’re spot on, I SHOULD be proud to that I’m with someone who brings out my best self and truly appreciates it.
I am thankful for your writings. For almost 2 years, they have come to me in the very moment that I am having the same challenge. I read them and am reassured that everything I believe and that I am has lead me to the right mindset. Often, it is harder to follow your strength. I learned from this article but also felt great achievement in knowing I am all of these things to my partner, as he can be to me. But how do I say this without blame.. ..he is our weakness because he is afraid. He is 90% of what I look for but lately he’s lying, possibly cheating, avoiding. ….I’m not a quitter but those things are not who I am. Without our communications, I’m doubting my decisions and trying to decide the best road to travel. Love is not everything.
It’s very true that the couple should believe that together they are unique. They shouldn’t allow outsiders to comment on their comments. This should be best the Valentine day’s message for 2015.
Jackie Kirby says
This list is very good and true! I have been married for over 23 years, and together for over 26. One thing I would add is to know the common “rules”- which may be different for everyone. In our relationship, there are a few – (1) If one of us spends more than $500, we tell the other first (2) We can say how we feel, but never use the word “Divorce”. This provides a safe environment for us to always express how we feel and what needs to happen to improve our relationship..
As usual a great post, you deserve a salute.
Ningi Mbanjwa says
Thank you for the good reads. i will apply these in my relationship, I really want to make this one work.
Thank you very much, God bless you.
Sheima Salam Sumer says
These are all such insightful and helpful points. You may have already touched on this, but what has really helped me personally is having higher values that I try to uphold. For example, marriage itself is an important value to me, as is pleasing my spouse. These values come from my belief in God, which I realize that not everyone has, but I am sure we all have higher values that we cherish in our hearts.
David W says
All your points are great although number 17 stands out for me.
Later this year it is our 35th wedding anniversary and as we married young we asked the priest on the day of our wedding is there any advice you would recommend.
The priest said never sleep on an argument. Always apologise the same day even if near the end of it you are still 100% convinced that you are right.
As we both have strong independent personalities that have grown into our lives together it was good advice that is still working nearly 35 years later.
Adam Martin says
What a great list! I love #19. I think it is important to remember that all this is work and it doesn’t happen with out being intentional about it.
Thanks for writing this!
Awesome post guys! It’s so true how important it is to accept each others difference and love them for who they are without trying to change them.
You don’t have to love every single thing that they do, but to love them wholly.
A philosophy teacher of mine explained happy couples as a venn diagram. Each person is one circle, they each have their own individual dreams and goals, and they intersect in the middle to bring their lives together.
Another awesome article, thank you guys for the inspiring read!
Gail and Greg Neff says
Love this list…it’s hard to think of anything to add that doesn’t already fit into one of these. We are married over 40 years and can’t seem to get enough time with one another still! #12 is my favorite. We dream together, very day, about the future. There are so many more things we’d like to accomplish and we get a lot of joy talking about those dreams. We make commitments like dates every Friday that we plan for during the week and smile with the anticipation. We are currently planning details of a house we plan to build when we retire. Making the future hopeful and real is a daily conversation for us.
Shane Sorensen says
Thanks so much for this insightful article. I have found many of the same things in my own relationship. I have truly met the girl of my dreams, and I hope to never ever let myself forget that.
Angel Chernoff says
To all of you who shared relationship advice based on years of personal experience, thank you. Marc and I are truly moved by your wisdom – such great food for thought. Thank you. We appreciate you.
Marc and Angel,
Absolutely spot on with your insights. I’m keeping some of them safe for my daughter….luv reading them over n over again.
Love is most important in any relationship and the willingness to be there. And with blessings from above all should be well.
Tammy Greene says
Great list. A true list of the elements of a happy and healthy marriage.
The only thing that I would say is that happy couples do talk about these things. By talking about healthy habits and expectations it helps us to stay on track (or get back on track if we fall off.)
Thank you for a great post. Sharing it on my Facebook page!
Mayank Chauhan says
I always enjoy your posts, sometimes not immediately though as they point out where I am not doing right to those around me. I am in a relationship where we have so much growing, especially me and for me that’s one of the things that makes a healthy relationship; when partners are learning together. Learning about each other, themselves and learning through shared experiences.
Love is a word that gets thrown around recklessly. My partner has taught me what it means to fully open your heart and mind to the journey of being in a lifelong commitment. I have found him to compliment who I already am and it has fostered my professional and personal growth. Encouragement and patience has only built our bond in times of progress and as well in times of stagnation . He sent me this article to continue to strengthen our partnership and to acknowledge our commitment to have a sense of deep intimacy through the years. Thanks for sharing these suggestions!
David M says
Thank you for the article…it helps put everything in perspective!
I love my wife very much…and she frustrates me very much too.
We have been married for nearly 29 years now…and have both lived through a lot.
I suffered from severe epilepsy and was on countless drugs for most of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t remember very much due to all of the medications that I was on.
Five years ago, I eased off most of my medications and had a device implanted that finally controlled my seizures. However, now I can hardly talk. My wife has been extremely supportive of my shyness and inability to speak.
I’ve also learned how a simple smile or touch can improve our relationship. Thank you for at least one of your points…number 10.
Dave and Andi Johnson says
You guys are right on. After 49 years, one of the major points we would add, is to recognize and respect our personality differences. Sometimes, wildly different type A’s versus type B’s may react to doing life like oil and water. Yet our differing characteristics fill voids in our persona, and enhance our relationship in many subtle ways.
We appreciate your daily insights.
Dave and Andi