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As much as you may want relationship happiness, relationships don’t come with a lifetime guarantee. Anyone who has been in a failed relationship will agree that finding an “ideal partner” can be a long process.
This is very different from the unrealistic stories fed to us by romantic songs, books, movies and TV shows.
The truth is: not everyone can be “wonderful” all the time. We all have flaws and weaknesses. We all make mistakes and disappoint our partners at some time. But the real questions about relationship happiness are: how much do you see your partner as a friend? How do you know if they’re the person with whom you could be happy for the rest of your life?
According to Dr. John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Method of couples therapy, creating relationship happiness can be surprisingly simple. Gottman says, “Happily married couples aren’t smarter, richer, or more psychologically astute than others. But in their day-to-day lives, they have hit upon a dynamic that keeps their negative thoughts and feelings about each other from overwhelming their positive ones.”
This is what makes most relationships last and what separates happy couples and siccessful realtionships from the couples who stay together just for the sake of their mortgage or kids.
So, what actions and values are good predictors of relationship happiness? Here are 6 predictors of relationship happiness based on solid research.
1. How you show fondness and admiration
Are you someone who can easily say “thank you” to your partner? Does your partner do little things that matter to you? Do they touch you gently in respectful and non-intrusive ways? Do you give them inexpensive gifts to show you care? How frequently you express gratitude, fondness & admiration can have a powerful impact on your relationship.
One of the secrets to relationship happiness is to create a habit where you share fondness and admiration for each other and all that you have together. Doing this for your partner in their top Love Language goes a long way to making them feel that you truly care about them. This is one of the most consistent predictors of relationship quality. Couples who express appreciation, admiration and gratitude often are less affected by common relationship stressors such as miscommunication, financial issues, children and in-law problems.
2. Your ability to compromise and admit mistakes
In any relationship, there are bound to be fights and misunderstandings. This is normal when two people live together. The couple who knows how to take responsibility for how they may have contributed to an argument and knows how to apologize effectively has the best chance of keeping their relationship intact. Admitting mistakes is not a sign of weakness. In fact, the ability to take responsibility, to listen to your partner’s perspective, and to negotiate and compromise with each other are indispensable conflict management skills. Learning conflict management skills is highly importnat for relationship happiness.
According to Dr. Terry Real, founder of Relational Life Institute, behaving respectfully during conflict and developing the ability to compromise and give up your pride defines your relationship. If both partners can see that you’re not always right and learn to be more accepting of each other’s humanity and mistakes, your relationship will prosper.
Of course romance and passion create memorable moments, but it is commitment, respect, negotiation and compromise that actually keeps the two of you together. It’s the small, daily interactions which build trust and make or break relationships, not the grand romantic gestures.
3. The tone of your voice and your body language
When it comes to communication, remembering that “It’s not what you say, but how you say it” will help immensely. How you say it holds more weight than the words you use in a discussion. Some research states that people trust nonverbal communication over verbal communication. Studies suggest that nonverbal communication accounts for 60%–70% of human communication.
By studying how 3,000 couples interacted, and by filming their facial expressions, eye movements, tone of voice, body tensions and measuring their heart rates, John Gottman’s research predicted with up to 94% accuracy who would break up. They studied these couples over years – straight, gay, and from all walks of life – to see what they could predict. They predicted with 94% accuracy if they would break up, be together and unhappy, or be together and happy several years after they were studied in his Love Lab. Just by studying their non-verbal cues!
So be warned. Your body language broadcasts the attitude you bring to your communication. If you bring respect, curiosity, kindness and a generous attitude, that’s a healthy sign. If you bring criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling, which Gottman calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, that’s a danger sign.
It’s not so much the words you use when you talk about problems with your partner, it’s how you deliver them that counts. Your non-verbal messages communicate safety (I’m a friend) or lack of safety (I’m a threat). If your non-verbal signals communicate that you’re not a friend, your partner’s brain and body instantly go into survival mode. These well-known fight, flight, freeze, submit or attach reactions are evolutionary responses to threat. They are built into your brain and nervous system by millions of years of adaptation. If threats and threat responses occur frequently in your relationship, seek expert relationship help. Threats do not lead to relationship happiness. You cannot deal with this alone. Call RESPECT – 1800 737 732, or go to these websites RESPECT and White Ribbon Australia for support.
4. How you spend leisure time
Couples who spend leisure time with each other have the best relationships. If you’re someone who’s content when with your partner, that’s a sure sign of relationship happiness.
Happy couples are people who are determined to spend time together, despite their different interests, hobbies, friends or pressures. It’s not simply the amount of time you spend together, but the quality of this together time. Fun, play, novelty and pleasure can be enjoyed in small amounts of time and are very important for nurturing your relationship.
5. How you give your attention
How long does it take to get your partner’s attention when you call or text them? If they mostly respond quite quickly, it’s a good sign. It demonstrates that you’re important to them. Couples who have a good connection know how to bid for each other’s attention. They give each other attention without hesitation, without waiting hours or days for a response.
But if your partner often seems uninterested, preoccupied, distant, requires you to repeat yourself or if you need to say something in an exaggerated way just to get their attention – watch out! A partner who doesn’t nurture your relationship and give attention to you in a good enough way can cause you to feel alone. This often means the relationship slowly becomes disconnected.
If you don’t take part in and give value to spending quality time together and to building rituals of connection, you fail to share important life experiences. It is these shared experiences which contribute to relationship happiness. They are filled with memories of giving your attention to each other during a shared activity.
6. How you give your acceptance
In the first stage of couple relationships, most of us see our partners in their best light. We see them as the “perfect partner” for us. We are often infatuated and driven by love and lust. However, as time goes by, we naturally begin to see our partner’s imperfections and their humanity. Passion might fade over time, because no-one can keep up with our expectations. These are the predictable stages in all relationships. All honeymoons end. We must then learn to face the tasks of living together daily and working as a team. The more we know about the stages of relationship, the easier it is to accept and work with the stage we’re in.
Relationship happiness is not about being with the “perfect partner”. It is about doing your best to accept your own and your partner’s vulnerabilities. Most importantly it’s about you practicing being the best person you can be, while being true to your authenticity and integrity. When you accept that all people, including you, have vulnerabilities, it’s easier to accept your partner’s ones as well. All humans are fallible.
Loving your partner becomes about creating partnership, teamwork and accepting differences. Accepting and learning to work with your differences is a process called differentiation. Without differentiation and learning about healthy boundaries, true intimacy is impossible.
A note of warning
Exceptions to these suggestions are: one-sided anger/abuse, addictions or ongoing affairs. If you are facing any of these in your relationship, don’t do this alone. Call RESPECT – 1800 737 732, or go to these websites RESPECT and White Ribbon Australia for support.
Good relationships are made over time, they are not ready-made to order.
3. A two day online couples intensive retreat where you get 18 hours of couples coaching to quickly boost your relationship happiness – tailor made to you as a couple.
Research consistently shows that online treatment can be very effective for many mental health issues. Click on the previous link for the results of a few studies.
You deserve the best relationship coaching if you’re planning to invest time and money in your relationship. If you’re not ready to book an appointment, call me on (0421) 961 687 to book a FREE 15 minute phone consultation to discuss how I may be able to assist you.