Have you ever looked around and compared yourself to other super cute couples and wondered what it is they know that you don’t? Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect relationship since literally every couple has its challenges. And yet, it’s true that some couples flourish while others flounder. What’s the key to their success? Relationship happiness does not occur by accident. Healthy couples work wisely at building and maintaining their love.
Here are 11 habits happy, healthy couples do, and some ideas for you to integrate them, too.
1. Express Appreciation Daily
A healthy relationship is based on a pattern of positive expression, intimacy, and connection. Healthy couples aim to acknowledge and recognize the other daily. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does have to be sincere. For example, you could leave a note for your partner expressing gratitude; send a sweet text message to let them know you are thinking about them, or do an act of service you know they would appreciate. Couples I treat often express that they don’t feel acknowledged or appreciated by their partners. As humans, we all need to be validated by our partners and expressing gratitude regularly goes a long way.
2. Fight Fairly
Every couple disagrees, argues, and runs into challenges. Sometimes this happens more often than we want it to. But a relationship that has regular disagreements is not necessarily an unhealthy one. It’s how challenges are handled that determines the health of the relationship.
Fighting fair means that you stay away from what marriage researcher and author, Dr. John Gottman, calls the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Engaging in any of these behaviors are clinically proven to diminish the sustainability of a relationship. Healthy couples understand these self-protecting impulses, but rarely engage with them.
3. Ask For What You Need
I hear it all the time:
“If he truly loved me, he’d know what I need.”
“I shouldn’t have to ask.”
“She should know what she did wrong.”
Your partner is not a mind reader. They see the world differently; have different expectations, and different experiences. It’s your job to communicate your thoughts, needs, and feelings. And yes, sometimes you will have to do this multiple times. Healthy couples stay away from assumptions. Instead, they make it a habit to ask for what they need and make space for their partner’s needs (without being resentful). The happiest couples openly talk about their desires and respect and honor their differences.
4. Speak Your Partners Love Language Everyday
We all give and receive love in our own unique way. It’s not about what’s right vs. what’s wrong. It’s about what works for you and your partner. Your needs will likely be different and that’s normal. Relationship therapist Gary Chapman pioneered the concept of the Five Love Languages. The five languages are: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. Healthy couples are adept in how their partners give and receive love. Having this awareness helps support reciprocity, affection, and warmth in their relationship.
5. Do Chores Together
Few things create as much resentment as feeling like your partner’s housekeeper. In fact, division of labor is one of the top complaints that bring couples into therapy. Healthy couples make it a priority to do their chores together. They may not like it, but they do it. One of you may hate doing dishes, while the other hates making the bed. Have a discussion about how you can divide up your tasks and then rally to get it done. Doing this together builds trust, closeness, and helps keep resentment at bay.
6. Make Time To Snuggle
Communication is important in relationships, but people often forget how effective and meaningful touch can be. Did you know that physical touch releases a hormone called Oxytocin? Oxytocin is coined the “love hormone” because it plays a huge role in relationship bonding. It also relieves emotional and physical pain, supports immune health, and helps deepen intimacy. Healthy couples make it a priority to engage in daily physical affection no matter how busy or tired they might be.
7. Talk About the Hard Stuff
We have two options when confronted with hard relationship topics—we can avoid them and hope that they magically disappear, or we can lean into them, practice being authentic, and deal with what happens. When we avoid our problems we provide for them the opportunity to grow, and leak out in other ways. Healthy couples rarely avoid hard topics. Instead, they make the time to discuss them and explore concrete solutions. It’s not always easy, but absolutely necessary.
You will rarely see a healthy relationship that lacks boundaries. Boundaries are what set the space between where you end and another person begins. Healthy couples openly talk about and respect each other’s boundaries as a way to ensure that their needs are being met and to feel safe in their relationship. Topics might include emotional boundaries (i.e., how much time to spend together vs. apart), physical boundaries (i.e., physical touch, sex) and even digital boundaries (i.e., how often to check in, posting about the relationship, following each others friends on social media, etc.).
9. They Forgive and Move On
Healthy couples recognize that their relationship runs on forgiveness. In fact, it can’t survive without it. Learning to sincerely apologize and forgive is crucial for a peaceful existence and strong relationship. An apology isn’t about making a fight go away, it’s a sincere attempt to overcome an issue as a team, and then move on from said issue. In a healthy relationship, you choose to be happy rather than right. Often that requires a sincere apology. To do that, don’t end an apology with a qualification (“I’m sorry, but…”). Instead, take responsibility (“I’m sorry because I…”).
10. Spend Time Apart
Healthy couples have both closeness and independence. They take space to pursue a life outside their partner. How well partners succeed in honoring each other’s needs for togetherness vs. separateness greatly impacts their relationship satisfaction. The ability to separate from your partner and enjoy time on your own signifies a relationship that has trust and a healthy attachment system.
11. A Willingness To Reach Out For Help
Healthy couples are willing to ask for help. While this can feel daunting, time consuming, and down right frightening a healthy couple recognizes how important it is to have outside support when they can’t solve their issues on their own. This support can come from a therapist, your place of worship, a couples’ workshop; or any person that feels safe to open up too and can offer objective insight. The most important piece is that you recognize you need support and you go after it with sincere intentions.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and are interested in individual or couples therapy I invite you to contact me via email at: [email protected]