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