43 Secrets Happy Couples Swear By To Keep Their Relationships Strong
There’s no equation for the perfect relationship. (Damn.) But there’s certainly some proven research on the topic – and plenty of personal testimonies from happy couples willing to share what works for them. While you probably shouldn’t try all of these at once (because: terrifying!), some of this advice is definitely worth considering…
Stop Keeping Score
“Happy couples work as a team,” says social worker Kelley Kitley. “They don’t sweat the small stuff, like who loaded the dishwasher yesterday and who made more money this month. They have a common goal and understanding of working together to live their best lives possible.”
Make Pillow Talk More Meaningful
“At bedtime, we each share what our three best memories are from the day and one thing that we are grateful for,” shares Echo, G., married 35 years. “We also sleep holding hands.”
Cuddling really can make your relationship better. Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire found that 94 percent of couples who touched or nearly touched while sleeping reported being happy in their relationship while only 68 percent of couples who had more distant sleeping habits reported the same satisfaction. Time to get cozy.
It doesn’t always have to be about the sex. “Many couples are too busy to touch or feel that if they do it will lead them to sex. And if they don’t have time to get physical, they don’t touch,” says couples therapist Irina Firstein. “This is a huge mistake. Touching is part of broad-based eroticism and does not have to be goal oriented, but rather a playful act between partners.” Time to revisit the good old days of smooching sessions.
Kiss Goodbye… And Hello
When you’re already running late, it’s easy to yell a quick goodbye and bolt out the door. But happy couples take a second to slow their roll, says Firstein. “Stop what you are doing when your partner leaves or returns and look at them, greet them and give each other an embrace – the kind where you relax your bodies into one another’s. This promotes and strengthens feelings of affection and connection,” she says. “It makes the other feel loved and important.”
Don’t Forget The Little Things
“After 20 years of marriage, it’s as much about the everyday tiny things as it is the grand gestures – if not more so,” said Dana M. “Almost every night, we have ice cream or frozen yogurt treats. It’s a little thing to see who volunteers to go downstairs and to the back of our big old house to the freezer to get them each night. Partway through whatever we’re watching that evening, one of us will ask, ‘Did you say something about popsicles?’ and the other will make the trek downstairs to the freezer where we keep a stock of frozen treats and grab a surprise for the other. We settle in on the couch with our popsicles and our pups and just enjoy the downtime together.”
Be Totally Transparent
“Let go of privacy. I’m not talking about using the restroom with the door wide open, but rather being completely transparent with your mate,” says Shawnda Patterson, relationship coach and author of The Dating Game. “Unless your mate has given you a valid reason to doubt their loyalty, trust that there are no secrets between you. True intimacy has no secrets.”
Spend Quality Time In The Kitchen
“Every night we cook dinner together – or at least keep one another company while the other cooks,” says Ashley W., married for 16 years. “When one of us gets home, the other always fixes the other a drink (usually not alcoholic, could just be sparkling water with lemon!) and for some reason that always feels like a nice way to start the evening.”
Listen When You Fight
When you’re pissed at your partner, it’s hard to remember to listen to their side of things. But this is a surefire way to breed miscommunication, says Dr Wendy Walsh, author of The 30-Day Love Detox. “The person who is not being heard will find somebody to listen,” says Walsh. “And that person will be either a lover or a lawyer.”
Turn TV Time Into Together Time
“Our weekday evening habits are to watch the evening news with a plate of olives and other noshes, then have dinner,” says Lisa D., married for six years. “Afterward, we watch TV. I love our binges! It still feels like a real treat to sit and watch and snuggle.”
Show Your Relationship Respect
“Happy couples give no credence to the stereotypical putdowns of husbands and wives that are often featured in pop culture. They love each other and don’t seek to belittle, disrespect or poke fun at each other like they may see on TV or film,” says clinical therapist Shlomo Slatkin. “If you’re not already aware of how common it is for marriage to be the brunt of many jokes, begin to notice the subtle and not so subtle messages about marriage you may be viewing on a daily basis.”
Check In On Sundays
Start your week by syncing up on what each of you has on deck, suggests psychology professor Eli Finkel, author of The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work. Here’s why: if you’re spending your week annoyed because your partner isn’t carrying his or her weight around the house, having this convo can prevent you from wrongly chalking it up as a personality defect, says Finkel.
Put ‘Quality Time’ On Your To-Do List
“When schedules get busy and we are coming home and eating at different times, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of launching into tasks,” says Naomi F., married for a year. “These bills need to get paid, this mail needs to get sorted, these dishes need to be washed. We try to make sure that some together time is also on the agenda.”
Tuck Each Other In
“We usually go to bed at the same time, but on the nights we don’t, the person staying up always tucks the other in,” says Kelli B., married for a year. “It sounds really silly, but it’s something sweet and simple we do for each other. It helps us connect – especially when we’re both swamped with work.”
Make Going Out A Priority
“I never really understood the concept of having regular ‘date nights’ after marriage but now I totally get it! Going out really encourages conversation and forces you to relax and just spend time together in a way you don’t when you’re sitting around at home,” explains Zara H., married for a year.
Take A Trip Down Memory Lane
According to one study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, nostalgia makes you more hopeful for the future; in other words, revisiting the past can be an erotic way to strengthen your bond in the present and build a brighter future.
“One night, we decided to forgo the PJs and cuddle close in the nude when we went to sleep,” says Stephanie P. It “brings out a feeling of complete freedom for both of us. There’s nothing better than using the warmth of each other to cuddle. Plus, it’s a great way to wake up in the morning!”
See A Therapist
“By going through couples counseling before getting married, my husband and I learned so much about each other, like how we communicate, how we show love, what we need to feel love, and how our histories have affected the relationship the two of us have created today,” says Samantha L. “We became so much closer because of it. I’ve actually never felt closer to him than I did when we were going through the class together – and both of us think it was the smartest decision we’ve ever made.”
Happy couples are totally comfortable doing nothing together, says Dr Jeffrey Bernstein, author of the couples’ book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind. “Couples who fear slowing down don’t have the ability to be as mindful and appreciative of being in the moment as those who are open to going at a slower speed,” he says. Consider this your excuse to stay in together for some much-needed down time this weekend.
Make A Sex Date
“When you can have sex any time, there’s less of an urgency to make it happen,” explains Natalie L. “But sex is the glue that holds us together. It’s the difference between the connection I have with my partner and the other people in my life I don’t have sex with. We keep scheduling sex because if we don’t commit to it the spark won’t stay lit.”
Own Your Feelings
When you fight, try to avoid starting sentences with “you,” says Dr Wendy Walsh, author of The 30-Day Love Detox. So instead of saying “You’re making me upset,” switch your script to take more ownership of your feelings by saying “I feel upset when you… ” According to Walsh, this is less likely to make your partner defensive and more likely to lead to a productive conversation so you can get to the make-up sex already.
Have An Anti-Date Night
“One night a week, we go to our local coffee shop and sit at different tables to work. It’s sweet because every once in a while, we look up and wink at each other or send a silly text from across the room about one of the other patrons,” explains Jennifer B. “It actually fosters more intimacy than sitting at home doing our own work in our separate offices. Our anti-date nights ignite that little spark you get when you first make eyes across the room with someone and flirt without words.”
Take A Sex Break
“As strange as it may sound, after a year of dating and being sexual with each other, my guy and I decided to take sex off the table – sometimes it’s for 30 days and sometimes it’s for 90,” says Ariane S. “During these breaks, we’re much more affectionate towards each other. We still have moments when we’re tempted to mask issues with sex, but instead we’re forced to talk things out and deal with it in real time.”
Give Each Other The Benefit Of The Doubt
“To stay committed you’ve got to believe the other’s person’s intentions are good – forgetting to pick something up from the grocery store isn’t a personal affront to you, the truth is they probably just forgot,” says relationship expert Suzanne Lachmann. “Everything else, whether you’re having a heated discussion or full-on fighting, will feel much more civilised (and not about one-upping each other) if you honestly believe your partner has your best interests at heart.”
“My boyfriend and I started out dating long distance and had been together for about six months when I saw a post by Jessica Biel on Instagram of her and Justin Timberlake playing board games. I thought it was so cute,” says Sajel S. “We decided to download Words With Friends [a multi-player word game] and have had a blast playing it together while dating long-distance. I knew he was well-read, but damn he schooled me unexpectedly with his vocabulary.”
Step Away From Social Media
Research shows that social media use has some interesting implications for your relationship. According to a study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, spending too much time on Facebook can result in poor relationship outcomes. Don’t forget to connect IRL more than you’re connecting online.
Learn Each Other’s Love Language
My fiancé Tommy values acts of service most while I’m a very independent person who has a hard time asking for help,” says Mandie M. “When he asks me for help, it makes a huge difference for me to remember that helping him makes him feel loved, so I make sure to put time and thought into answering his questions or helping him do things. My top love language is physical touch, which is less important to him. If I’m hugging him all the time, trying to hold hands, or resting my head on his shoulder, it might not register the same to him since touch isn’t his first love language.”
Make A Chore Chart
Chores are mini relationship grenades. To avoid those constant annoying reminders to take out the trash, relationship expert Dr Amy Banks suggests coming up with a long-term chore strategy. “It’s those smaller, unseen things that go unnoticed, compared with a day spent cleaning the garage,” she says. Deciding that in advance can help make sure you both recognise what the other is doing to help out.
Forget Your Past Hook-Ups… And Your Partner’s
“Often in relationships, we compare our current love interest to a past lover, which can result in developing forms of insecurities, inadequacies and ineffectiveness in moving forward,” says author and relationship expert Alexis Nicole White. “If one wants to truly enjoy their current situation and remain happy, one has to effectively let go of any past situations.”
Stop Texting So Much
“You will have so much more to talk about at the end of the day if you haven’t dragged the person through your day with text messages,” says assistant professor of human services and psychology Nicki Nance. “When you are together, shut the world out for a while. Silencing your cellphone lets the other person know that they are the most important thing in your life right now.”
Embrace The In-Laws
“Happy couples know that they’re not going to change their imperfect in-laws, and they put the relationship they have with their partner and the partner’s parents in perspective,” says April Masini, relationship and etiquette expert and author of Think and Date Like a Man. “Finding a sense of humor, as well as effective boundaries, are great ways to have a happy relationship by letting go of the fact that you just don’t like his or her parents too much.”
Silence Your Cellphone
“You need to be present, available and accessible to your partner,” says Firstein. Unplug for at least an hour a week when you’re spending time with your S.O. and enjoy actually listening to each other rather than the sound of your Twitter notifications.
Set Fighting Rules
Just like understanding each other’s love language, understanding each other’s fighting styles can make for a happier relationship, says Walsh. Rather than storming out to cool off, just tell your partner you need to go for a walk to calm down.
Don’t Be Afraid To Lose A Fight
When you get in an argument, resist the temptation to win all the time. It’s not about you or your partner “winning” it’s about the relationship winning. Consider it this way: “You’d be in love with a loser if the person you’re with is always wrong,” says Walsh.
Merge Your Friend Groups
The more the merrier. According to research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, sharing one giant social circle – rather than splitting off into your separate spheres – can make your relationship stronger. Researchers found that couples who shared a group of friends not only felt more solid about their relationship but also closer to their partner.
Have Regular Sex
One US study found that couples who reported having sex at least two to three times a month were 33 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than couples who rarely got busy.
Don’t Forget Your Friendship
While tending to your outside friendships is important, don’t forget to tend to your own. Relationship researcher John Gottman found that couples who shared a bond as friends were highly satisfied with the romantic aspects of their relationship.
Fight When It’s Necessary
Being that couple that “never fights” doesn’t mean you have a happy relationship. “Fighting, when necessary, can be a good thing,” says couples’ therapist Dr Franklin Porter. Happy couples don’t avoid fights – they handle them in a healthy way. “A happy couple can generally keep things from escalating too far because they’ve learned how to communicate,” says Porter. If you show your partner love and respect, fights will be less likely to get blown out of proportion, he says.
Try New Things Together
You know that kickboxing class you’ve been dying to try? Tap your partner. “You’ve got to get out of your rut to keep the excitement and passion going, and research shows the best way to do this is through small changes that upset your routine,” says Dr Terri Orbuch, relationship expert and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. “Throw some unusual date nights, classes, or tandem gym sessions into the mix – novel experiences release the bonding chemical oxytocin in the brain.”
Save Water, Shower Together
Because being eco-friendly is important, okay?! According to a survey published in the Journal of Sex Research, sexually satisfied men and women were more likely to save water and shower together. Pass the soap?
Set Realistic Expectations For Your Relationship
While raising the relationship bar is awesome, going too far with unrealistic demands can hurt your relationship satisfaction, according to a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. In other words, it’s totally fine to expect your partner to remember important dates in your relationship – not so great to be devastated if they don’t surprise you with a surprise holiday for each one.
Compliment Your Partner
Don’t save your praise for a big event – make complimenting your partner a regular occurrence, says Orbuch. “Making your partner feel special and noticed regularly makes for a more happy and stable couple over time.”
Talk About How Great Your Relationship Is
Seriously. “Many couples only talk about what’s wrong in their relationship, but research has found that couples who focus on what’s working are much happier over time than those who try to purely ‘fix’ their problems,” says Orbuch. Now go treat yourselves for being so awesome.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com