Couples who describe their relationships as happy, healthy, or successful don’t just get lucky. Nor do they keep a mantra of all the things the listicles tell them to do or not do.
Beginning. Middle. End. That’s it– A shared intention or vision for the relationship and a commitment to making it happen together.
Where many people get stuck, and the thing that has people clamoring to read those 10 thing listicles, is that they aren’t sure how to move their shared intention into action. It’s likely that they are hoping for an easy fix. Couples in solid relationships know it isn’t easy but this is how they do it:
Partners in healthy relationships know that everyone comes to the table with needs and expectations. Those needs are known and respected, rather than argued, questioned or minimized. Partners move through the world with the awareness of what the other needs and they work to meet those needs when possible.
Since we began dating, my husband has always been the one who has needed more check-ins when we’re apart. He likes a quick phone call or text when I am out and about. Me—not so much. I’d prefer to catch up at the end of the day over dinner. However, he is a child of divorce and many times when he’d show up to his dad’s house for their weekend visit, his dad would have forgotten that it was his weekend and that my husband was coming over. The sting from that childhood wound has created sensitivity for my husband where he feels like he’s out of the mind of out of my sight.
I could argue and belabor the point. I could call him “controlling” but I don’t. While I wish he didn’t have this insecurity, he does. I do my best to respect it and keep in touch because I don’t want him to feel forgotten about. I want him to know that his soft spots and vulnerabilities will be carefully kept with me.
When couples commit to having healthy relationships, there’s no such thing as “We gave up time together when we chose to have kids.” Those in strong relationships don’t allow work to become an excuse for lost time together, either. Rather, couples committed to caring for their relationship respect the obstacles and work to create moments or pockets of time for just them, even if a whole night uninterrupted is unrealistic.
This might mean that they set the alarm fifteen minutes early so they can have coffee before the kids wake-up. It might mean that one visits the other at work for a cup of coffee. They might decide to decline a social invite so they can spend time together.
Couples who plan on staying together know that time together is important and they don’t just give it away mindlessly. They recognize that life gets in the way and they may not have a lot of time together but they make the time they do have count.
Outside of our homes, when someone does something nice for us, we say “thank you”. When we need a favor, we say “please”. When we’ve been crabby for no reason, we apologize. Couples who are committed to making it work know that those same rules apply in their relationships, too—that they or their partners are not the exceptions to that rule.
Just because your partner knows “you don’t mean it” doesn’t mean you get to say it. Couples planning on being together for the long haul know this. They treat their partners with the same common courtesies that we extend to strangers. Even if “they should be doing the dishes”, a simple thank you is often extended. Appreciation is said out loud so that partners feel seen and heard.
Many people have written about how regular and consistent s*x is important in relationships. We know, too, how hard that can be for long-term couples to navigate and negotiate. It’s a sensitive topic that has to be respected and carefully kept. Successful couples don’t have an easier time navigating this than anyone else. However, they are not put off by the challenge and they commit to keeping talking about it.
Dry spells happen. Couples can have differing s*x drives. Kids, work, stress, and health can all be factors that get in the way of regular and consistent affection and attention. The couples who are happier are the ones who don’t accept this as the answer but just keep working on it.
They give one another hugs. They still kiss. They sit close on the couch. They hold hands. They touch inside and outside of the bedroom to maintain that connection when the s*x is good and when it’s absent.
So many arguments can start with who’s doing what, who’s doing more, who’s always, and who’s never. Couples who want to stay happy get that there is no such thing as equal division of labor in a long term relationship. At times, someone will be pulling 40% of the weight and the other will pull 60%. At some point, it will shift and someone may be pulling 90% when the other person can only get it together enough to manage 10%.
That’s ok, though. Those times don’t last and aren’t permanent. It’ll all even out in the end. Happy couples are aware of this and are mindful enough to make sure the other person gets a turn.
It’s so easy to be mad and fly off the handle when we feel abandoned or not taken care of. When someone says something, does something, doesn’t say or doesn’t do something, we quickly create stories about their words and behaviors in our minds. When we’re feeling mad or sad about what just happened, our instinct is often to go to the negative. She doesn’t care about me. He only thinks about himself.
Couples committed to working it out take a breath and argue back to that inner voice. Maybe he didn’t mean to forget to call when he knew he was going to be late. Maybe she was distracted when she said that. Strong couples recognize that a momentary lapse of intention or respect is not always a reflection of how their partner views the relationship. They keep this in mind, even when they are feeling hurt.
Few in this world just get lucky and have their happiness handed to them. Real happiness is a choice. Choosing to be happy in your relationship is a choice. Working at doing it better every day is a choice. The happy couples—the successful couples—they choose to be happy and they choose to do the work.