As much as we 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 are going to 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 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?
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 having 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.
According to Dr. Terry Real, founder of Relational Life Institute, a couple’s ability to compromise and give up their pride defines their relationship. If both partners can see that they’re not always right and learn to be more accepting of each other’s humanity and mistakes, their 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 whether couples—straight, gay, and from all walks of life—would break up, be together and unhappy, or be together and happy several years after they were studied in his Love Lab. 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 happy when with your partner, that’s a good sign of relationship happiness.
Happy couples are people who are determined to spend time together, despite their different interests, hobbies, friends or pressures like kids and work. 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, 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 can cause you to feel alone and the relationship to slowly become disconnected.
If we don’t take part in and give value to spending quality time together and to building rituals of connection, we fail to share important life experiences. These contribute to a happier and more fulfilling relationship, filled with memories of shared experiences.
6. How you give your acceptance
In the first stage of couple relationships, most of us see our partners in their best light, as the “perfect partner” for us. We are often infatuated and driven by love and lust. However, as time goes by, we begin to see our partner’s imperfections, their humanity. Passion might fade over time, because it’s inevitable that our partner cannot keep up with our expectations. These are the predictable stages in all relationships. All honeymoons end and we must learn to face the tasks of daily living together. The more we know about these 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 yours and their vulnerabilities. Most importantly it’s about you continuing to practice 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. 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. Again, 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. The previous link has 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.