by Ash Roy
It’s important to understand that love is not just about finding the right person; it’s about working with them to create the right relationship.
Do you struggle in your relationship with your significant other from time to time? Do you wonder if there’s a way to live together more harmoniously?
I’ve been there.
Can I tell you a little secret?
Most “happy, healthy couples” don’t expect to be happy and harmonious all the time. They deal with their little quibbles and make conscious choices that lead to happiness as a couple in the long-term.
Being in a relationship with one person for more than a few years is one heck of a ride. It ain’t always easy. In fact, it’s hard a lot of the time.
See, it’s not about finding the right one, but rather about being the right one.
Before I got married, I embarked on a mini research project. I asked over 100 couples who’d been married for more than 20 years this one question: “What’s the secret to a happy marriage?”
What I learned from them really broadened my perspective on relationships. It set a realistic framework for my marriage. Ten years later, my wife and I still love each other dearly — despite the various ups and downs all marriages are subject to.
The lessons that research project taught me, combined with my own experiences, have revealed key daily habits necessary for a happy, healthy relationship.
Here are 10 things happy, healthy couples do every day:
1. They cherish their differences.
Have you noticed a happy couple together? They aren’t fiercely independent or pathologically dependent. They’ve struck a healthy medium.
I think of it as interdependence. They can agree to disagree on the little things.
Sure, they’re aligned on the big things like life goals. But they don’t feel that they have to like the same music and share a favorite color. They don’t expect their partner to approve of all their choices. Each partner stands in his or her own power and respects the other’s opinion.
Each partner is a happy and successful person in his or her own right.
2. They keep their assumptions in check.
We go into most situations with certain assumptions —based on our life experiences.
Let’s say one partner grew up in a touchy-feely family and the other didn’t. The one who did grow up in a touchy-feely family is likely to interpret the other’s behavior as distant or indifferent.
The incorrect assumption? To express affection, we must be touchy-feely. That assumption right there can wreak havoc in a relationship!
The solution? Be mindful of your underlying assumptions that sabotage your relationship.
So how do you actually do this? The next time you’re upset with your partner, check in with yourself first. Ask yourself: “What are the facts and what are my opinions (based on my assumptions) about this situation?”
Fact: He’s not very physically expressive.
Opinion (based on your assumptions): He doesn’t love me as much as I love him.
Now that you’ve separated the facts from your opinion, question your opinion. Does that opinion help or hurt your relationship? I find this kind of self-inquiry to be surprisingly powerful. Try it. (Read The Mastery of Love.)
3. They don’t confuse their spouse with a carnival psychic.
It’s quite common to think of our partner as an extension of ourselves. It just happens. We often assume they know what we’re thinking… almost as if he or she lives in our head.
Here’s an example: John loves his wife Alice. They’ve been married for 8 years. Alice comes back from an awful day at work and John greets her enthusiastically.
Alice somehow expects John to know she’s had a bad day. She wants space and finds his enthusiasm annoying. Meanwhile, John has no idea what’s going through Alice’s mind, and is trying to work out why she’s so cold and distant.
See the problem here?
We often assume our partners live in our heads and then expect them to respond to our un-communicated frustrations.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
Happy, healthy couples have worked this out. They make a conscious effort to communicate their needs to each other — even if it seems obvious.
Especially when it seems obvious.
4. They do their best to step into each other’s shoes.
In other words, they are mindful of each other’s unique perspective.
Imagine this: You know your partner had very little sleep last night. If you are mindful of this, you’ll interpret their abruptness through their lens (not yours): “I’m tired and I’m not myself right now.”
You won’t take things as personally as you otherwise would have. You’ll realize it has nothing to do with you and won’t feel hurt. You won’t react with anger.
Even better, you’re more likely to be considerate and offer to give them a back rub to take the edge off. A little empathy driven shift in perspective goes a really long way.
5. They recognize the value of personal growth.
You know how to tell if something is alive and well? You look for evidence of growth.
Great relationships usually have partners committed to lifelong learning and growth. They’re curious about things. They are keen to learn from the world and from each other.
Because of their love for learning they afford each other the freedom to develop as individuals within the relationship.
I’ve seen quite a lot of unhappiness in relationships caused by one or both partners being clingy. They don’t want their significant other to change so they don’t have to change themselves.
But here’s the simple truth: Change is a part of the universe and humans are no exception.
If you want to have a successful relationship you’ve got to embrace learning and personal growth with open arms.
6. They assume the best of intentions.
Life throws a lot of challenges in every couple’s way. Happy, healthy couples have figured out the solution lies in consciously adopting an optimistic attitude towards each other and the world in general.
In practice, this means they choose to look for good intentions behind each other’s actions rather than assuming the worst. They build their relationship on this platform of faith in each other.
The result? Their approach engenders trust and respect — two key cornerstones of a successful relationship.
Cultivating learned optimism gives you an opportunity to ‘set the tone’ in the relationship. You feed off each other’s energy and can create a bond where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. (Marc and Angel discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
7. They seek rapport even in moments of conflict.
Smart couples know the importance of mirroring their partner’s feelings by repeating their partner’s words.
“What I heard you say was that you’re very angry and hurt about my having forgotten your birthday. I’m sorry that I forgot your birthday and I understand that you’re angry and hurt. I’d feel the same way if I were you.”
By repeating their partner’s exact words and phrases it forces them to empathize deeply.
Honoring each other’s feelings reinforces mutual trust and respect and builds deep understanding.
8. They figure out a way to reconnect.
One of the best books on relationships that I’ve read is called Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. Hendrix believes the main reason couples fight is because they feel disconnected. And happy, healthy couples have figured out ways to reconnect. They both take individual responsibility to reconnect after a little argument or any sort of friction that inevitably creeps into their day-to-day lives.
They don’t let their daily resentments eat away at the relationship.
Sure, they give each other space when necessary, but then they figure out a way to reconnect with each other — usually via acts of good will and kindness.
A bunch of flowers picked from the garden. A bit of humor to lighten the mood. A hug. Heck, even a smile. It doesn’t really matter what. They do something to reconnect and they do it as soon as possible.
9. They make time to nurture their relationship. (Especially if they have kids!)
Ever seen a couple with kids at the grocery store. See that look on their faces? Like they’re about to explode. That’s cause they are!
Kids can obliterate essential ‘couple time’ — critical to any happy relationship.
Happy, healthy couples know this and they make time to spend exclusively with each other. Whether this means getting a babysitter and having a date night every week or just having a glass of wine together after the kids have gone to bed. They make sure it happens.
It’s essential to make time! I can’t stress it enough. Don’t do this and it could be years before you really connect with each again — if at all! And if you eventually do you won’t recognize each other.
So, when was the last time you went out for a planned date with your partner?
10. They are committed to weathering the peaks and valleys.
I’ve saved the best for last, because this is the most crucial point of them all.
Show me any great couple and I’ll show you two people who are committed to making their relationship work. No. Matter. What. They put in the effort day in and day out. They’re willing to have the difficult conversations. They fight, but they admit to their mistakes and apologize. They argue, but make the effort to understand the other’s perspective.
Because every healthy relationship needs an argument every now and then… just to prove that it is strong enough to survive. Long-term relationships, the ones that matter, are all about weathering the peaks and the valleys.
Happy, healthy couples know this, and they persevere. They don’t give up on each other. They stick it out.
A happy, healthy long-term relationship as I’ve described in this post may be one decision away from you.
And that’s the decision to be that ideal partner you’re looking for in your partner. In most cases, what you bring into the relationship has a direct impact on what you get out of it.
I believe every one of us is capable of making this decision.
I did. And so can you.
It won’t be easy. But it’s well worth it in the end.
In your experience, what helps create a happy, healthy relationship? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts with the community.
Photo by: ShutterStock.com
Author Bio: Ash Roy teaches busy people to work smart and live better by eliminating stress and increasing productivity. Download a free copy of 10 Time Saving Tools That’ll Make You A Productivity Ninja.
Excellent, heartfelt article. Thank you! I also find that LAUGHTER is key to maintaining a loving, deep relationship with my wife. WE gotta find a good reason to laugh together as often as possible.
The theme of nurturing a relationship and not just saying “I love you” but proving it is what I feel is most important … and it’s something your book helped me out with. In a section from the Relationships chapter, you say something like. “You can say sorry a thousand times, or say ‘I love you’ as much as you want, but if you’re not going to prove that the things you say are true, they aren’t. If you can’t show it, your words are not sincere.”
What’s I’ve learned is, in a healthy relationship, actions consistently backup both people’s claims of love.
I’ve been through some emotional relationship turmoil in the past year … where my partner consistently said ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘I love you,’ but her actions never showed either. It lead me to believe that those words were never sincere. And it helped me do what’s right for ME.
In any case, working on letting go is still ‘work in progress,’ … but your articles continually remind me that I am on the right path.
Susan Rae says
Good read. Relationships are great, but not easy. Of course the good times are wonderful – they help us face the challenges together. It’s the truly challenging times that test our love and bond us more deeply. Never forget to express your love as often as possible and in every way that you can, especially when life gets tough.
Barbara Sherry Rose says
I totally agree with you and what you shared. I re-shared your post on Google+ just to help others.
When people say “relationships take work” I say “relationships take understanding.” Seek to understand the other, and at the same time always speak your truth graciously!
Keep up your great work!
I love all your posts about relationships. I used one as an example when I had to pitch an idea for a ‘Is your relationship healthy?’ article.
Writer of emotionalseas.com
I can tell you after 30 years of marriage, space is important. However, my spouse spends so many hours on a bike that while it was a sport he loved as did (just not to the same degree), it pulled us apart. By the time they’d finish biking anywhere from 3-6 hours coming home totally spent, there was no energy left for me/us on the weekends. Over time our relationship eroded and our quality time was less than that spent biking with others. Sometimes a good thing and making time for ones self can be too much. We are desperately trying to fix this now but I’m not sure our marriage will survive. The only saving grace is that we are both still together and trying. This is by far the most excruciatingly painful experience I’ve ever endured. So be careful on how much time apart each spends on their hobby. While it’s important, in excess it can be destructive over the long-term if you grow apart.
Thanks for the wonderful work that you doing for us; its really wonderful and you really keep us going and keep us grounded.
I believe in love, as a person you have to work 100% on your relationship. Make time for each other and give it your best. LOVE is beautiful and an individual deserves to be loved.
I’ve been thinking through this (currently struggling this year after 21 years of marriage). All of the above is true, and I have come to the conclusion that while you can will yourself to follow through with the commitment you make at the start, there is no soulmate. (- and maybe you can marry just about any decent person and see it through to the end, “as long as we both shall live”)
But honestly, it just feels like resignation. Maybe I expected my marriage to be a source of goodness, even happiness, in my life, and that was an unreasonable assumption. It seems more like a duty or a test of will. And that just makes me sad and wish I could go back to that naive 23 year old and tell her better. She wouldn’t have listened, I think. My life is now too entangled to go, and there is no abuse or good justification, only that I am not happy. I just don’t want to look back with regret. A matter of choose your regret, I guess. But I don’t really want to be that way about it either. Sigh.
Great article. Thank you. One of the most important things about my marriage (going on 30 years) is that your marriage doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s. You decide what’s important to you as a couple and don’t let anyone convince you that you “aren’t doing it right.” It’s your marriage, not anybody else’s.
Amanda LaRose says
I think that my husband and I have a very strong relationship. No, as you said, it isn’t always easy and often isn’t, but we have always figured out a way to band together during hard times and reconnect after they have passed.
Despite that, I do remember initiating a conversation with my husband right after our first child was born. I suggested to him that we need to be kind to one another and realize that this new, untrodden and stressful adventure that we were embarking on would cause blow-up and blow-outs and that they should be accepted and not analyzed too deeply. I equated it to when I worked in the restaurant industry and this type of stress is called being “in the weeds”. Friends, colleagues and management would often get hot tempers and yell and scream for things while in the thick of the stress but we all went out for our after shift beer like those explosions were just part of the job.
Why not do the same in your relationship? We often lash out due to a sudden burst of stress but then exacerbate the issue by not just apologizing, forgiving, forgetting or moving forward without resentment.
I truly believe this set us up for a healthy mantra, 6 years later, with raising our children (now with the third on the way).
What a great post! I also agree with the above comment about having your own unique marriage. When we stop thinking about what others deem to be the “right way” and focus on what works for our unique-selves it works out much more naturally, in my opinion! I have also shared three tips I have learned while being married on my blog linked above.
GREAT POST as ALWAYS,
In my opinion”Love is not about finding perfect person but to love imperfect person perfectly and accept his good qualities as well as his imperfections”
My partner is also like that. He loves me in all possible ways and of course he always teaches me very politely and lovingly, if I am ever wrong. He is very supportive and caring…
There is a quotation that I like very much about “marriage” by Cathy Thorne: “Myth: Your soul mate will bring you bliss. Fact: Your soul mate will bring up every one of your unresolved issues.” I really like this quotation because, for me, it really highlights the fact that personal growth is a fundamental attribute/purpose of a happy, healthy marriage.
Janice Harris says
What has made my marriage last I think is mostly patience and tolerance.
Thank you – as always, right on topic for my life and what is going on… Amazing how that happens!
Just wanted to say, @Julia, please read The Mermaid’s Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. It won’t ‘fix’ your marriage but it is a beautiful description of just what you said in your post. The 20-year mark, I think, is a mortality check. It is a generation separation. One of the reviews of the book called it a ‘coming-of-age tale for a middle-aged woman.’ I thought that was beautiful.
Once upon a time things were perfect in my relationship. Now I see myself frustrated and hurt….because he don’t do the things he use to. I’m trying to hold on with all my might.It’s so hard…
I understand that everything can’t be perfect all the time. But I want him to understand that as a women I want to notice when I put on something nice…sometimes I want to snuggle next to him and watch a movie..
Thank you for sharing points …… reminds me of a recent book by David Nicholls called “Us”. Track it down. I have just read it – thought provoking and resonates with your article above. Best wishes!
Wonderful topic and perfect for me and my husband today. For me it is “Being Here Now”…. living and enjoying our moments together fully and cutting out the outside world…fully enjoying each other and the moment we are in at the time. This undivided time is so precious in this hectic world. We found this out the hard way…. I had to go thru advanced breast cancer, reconstruction surgery, my husbands forced retirement and the loss of our business to finally see how much my husband loved me and how precious our time together is. He put me on a pink pillow and took care of me like a queen thru all this and made me realize how lucky I was.We have been married 40 years and are loving /hating life happily and gratefully….. due to all the points in your article. Thank you for this today… LOVED IT!
Katina Vaselopulos says
I guess I was wise enough to live this wonderful advice in my 49 years of marriage. But was blessed too, because we lasted even when things were not right. I guess, our souls knew what to do to fix things up.
I would add that nagging, especially in bed, is not conducive to a good relationship. Also giving more than asking is a must!
Blessings and light!
This is such a heartfelt and honest article. Thanks for all the great work you put into every article here, Marc and Angel.
Even though I’m single right now, this is a great reminder of all things I need to learn and take on board when I do happen to find that special someone. 🙂
I love #3. As a guy, I always need to work on communicating better!
In response to your question, I think one habit that both partners can practice separately is taking out time to love themselves individually (in line with #2). When you take the time out to love yourself, you can share that love and happiness together.
So often, we want to fix the other person but instead, don’t take the time to love ourselves or fix how we react to who we believe our partner should be.
Thanks for the great post 🙂
I was recently feeling very disconnected from my partner so #8 was exactly what we did. He gets very engrossed in his work (he currently works from home). After I told him how I felt, he took some time to think about it and the next day we had a wonderful conversation, unrelated to anything in particular, but it was just the two of us enjoyed a conversation. It felt like a date. That can carry me for another month!
Thanks very much for stopping by and for your kind words.
I agree that ultimately laughter is the key to a lot of things. It somehow seems to unwind and diffuse tension between people like nothing else does.
Great to know that you thought my article was heartfelt. I appreciate the encouraging words.
Thanks very much for stopping by. I completely agree with your point about actions being more important than words.
All the best to you on your part. I hope you find all the happiness and contentment you seek. I’m sure that persistence will yield results.
Thank you for this article.
After a recente divorce, I would suggest to pay attention to divergent interests in the couple and to the geographical distance, i.e. jobs in different regions.
Great article Ash, you have provided a very solid recipe for cooking up a delicious relationship.
I have been in a cross cultural relationship for the past three years, which adds an extra dimension of challenge.
The key to success that I practice on a regular basis is to really try and understand what my partners perspective might be and to not take things personally. I ask myself the question “What is driving the behavior I see?” I find by having greater understanding, I can also have greater acceptance and just allow my partner to be who he is.
Thanks again for a wonderful article.
M & A, great post, and you guys have some thoughtful interesting, readers; I enjoyed reading all the comments today! I’ve been happily married for 21 years, and I’m just starting to realize you have to have a plan to deal with the bad times. There are several things that caused a lot of difficulty in my marriage, one is what I call menopause meets mid-life crisis. Any couple going through that, put your saddle on, it isn’t a fun ride, sometimes you won’t recognize each other, but you will get through it. The other problem is when you start to think your partner thinks just like you do, they don’t! My marriage got a lot better when I decided to challenge and question my own thinking, which was really what your article was about today.
Joseph Robinson | InsideOutWisdom says
This is an awesome perspective and I’m so glad you shared it here.
I totally agree that a conscious relationship is an wonderful thing. Your list of how to recognize and grow this in such a potentially tumultuous environment as a marriage is to be commended.
You nailed the idea of “being the right one” when so much these days is about “finding the one.”
One thing I would add which comes from a recent book: Integral Relationships: a manual for men and curious women; is that each person is on a level and line of growth and awareness. Sometimes they get ahead of each other in one way or another and that causes the deep shifts.
Using your advice will definitely help a couple keep moving together, much like my Grandparents did for 67 years until their deaths a year apart.
And for me, who’s last marriage made it less than three years, I awakened to the fact that while we were together at one level, we were never going to be together on another.
Self awareness is the key to both successful relationships in their own right. One example where they successfully stayed together and one that successfully (and gratefully) did not.
Great post, Thank you! As some one else mentioned, it’s been read and filed for when next time I’m in a relationship.
One thought I try to hold: Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy? In a disagreement, this is a good way to avoid infalting it further.
Hi Susan Rae
Thanks for stopping by to read the article, and for leaving a comment.
I’m glad you found it to be a good read. I completely agree that relationships are great but not easy. But then again most things that are fantastic take quite a bit of effort, don’t they?
I think you make a great point about never forgetting to express your love as often as possible and in every way that you can especially when life gets tough.
Something great for me to keep in mind. Thank you.
I’m glad you agree with what I shared. Thank you so much for sharing my post on google+. I hope it does help others.
If this post helps even one person it will have achieved its objective 🙂
I’m glad you like all the posts about relationships on this blog. I love them too.
In fact, that’s what inspired me to write this post.
I’m very sorry to hear about challenges that you have been facing.
It definitely isn’t easy when your spouse gets completely so absorbed in a hobby that it erodes the relationship.
Do you think it might be beneficial if you developed an interest in biking so you could meet your spouse where he is.
I appreciate that this can be quite painful and bring up resentments given that biking was the source of so much pain for you.
But once the initial pain has passed, you might actually find some things about biking that help you to understand his perspective. For example, you may find the rush of endorphins after a vigorous bike ride to be very exhilarating. As a runner I can tell you that exercise can be quite addictive 🙂
More importantly, he will hopefully be very appreciative of your effort to take an interest in something that you love so much. Maybe this will lead you back to each other.
Just a thought.
Great point. Love takes work and requires 100% percent of our efforts.
I agree that love is beautiful and an individual deserves to give and receive love in equal measure.
You make a great point about soulmates. I think your idea of soulmates has been very romanticised by the entertainment industry.
Your point about being able to marry just about any decent person and see through the end is a great one.
I agree with you completely. after all, it’s not about finding the right one but rather about BEING the right one because ultimately the only person each one of us can control or change is ourself.
So the best we can do in a relationship is offer our best. When two decent people offer their best to each other in a relationship, I believe it’s bound to work out – despite the inevitable challenges.
What a great point. I completely agree that your marriage doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s.
Each couple decides what’s important to them and works within those parameters.
Fantastic point. Thanks for sharing it.
What a fantastic analogy! I love what you say about your experience in the restaurant industry.
It’s so true. That is exactly how it happens in life to doesn’t it?
We tend to lash out at each other when we’re under pressure. This is particularly true when little children are involved. I know I’m guilty of this.
I tend to apologize promptly when I realise I have done something wrong, and that has served me very well in my marriage.
All the best with your third child.
Rose Costas says
Thanks for another great post. It requires lots of work to keep your relationship healthy but it is worth it.
The hardest thing for me was to understand how someone could love me even after the silly things I did.
I grew up in a conflict free environment and so I never saw my grandmother in this instance in any situation where she had to resolve conflict or had a fight with anyone. As an adult I find it hard to fight and fight fair. I do not fight at all. I tend to be the one who as soon as the disagreements arises am out the door and doesn’t want to return.
I am learning that fights doesn’t necessarily means the end of the relationship and that my limited experience with conflict resolution has left me a bit unprepared.
Thanks for this post.
AJ Walton says
I think far too many people put responsibility on their partner to make them happy. If people would take responsibility for their own happiness, then a lot of the blame we can inflict on our partners disappears.
Relationships are easy, self-mastery is the challenge.
Joseph Dabon says
I and my wife were married for 37 years before she succumbed to cardiac arrest secondary to asthma – and I live happily thereafter. LOL! Just kidding.
Happiness in marriage is not a constant element. It comes and goes. What keeps a marriage last is to accept that there are other things bigger than what makes either one or both happy. In fact happiness may take a back seat to more important things in a married union – kids for example.
When I and my late wife had very bad quarrels that talk of separation came up, the question that cooled us down was always, “So what will happen to the kids?”
The kids’ welfare was more important to us than our momentary anger against each other.
The kids kept us together to 37 years. And if she can see our children now, wherever she is, I am sure she will be very happy of how well they turned out to be.
I believe that it is the sum of what you said… it takes two people committed to make it work, find excuses for each other trust each other, know each other and they express their selves in order to keep everything in the open, their relationship is a solid wall that leaves no space for cavity to come over and blow their masterpiece.
Rich Gabrielli says
My wife and I always hold hands. It has guided us for 19 years.
What a great summary of what keeps couples together and happy! People often ask my partner and I how/why we get along so well…and I never realized the reasons why, until now!
Thanks. This will help me to keep in mind it’s necessary to work on your relationship. It’s not enough to just be in it.
Jerry Stumpf says
A wonderful assortment of thoughts to guide a relationship.
Communication is a huge key to a healthy, happy marriage.
Thank you for the positive view you take on life.
Your friend — Jerry Stumpf
Communication, communication, communication!
I believe that in order for any relationship to work without unspoken misunderstandings and grudges, effective communication is crucial.
This is why I am enthusiastic about learning about effective communication. I believe that it is EVERYTHING to a relationship.