We all know that couple. The couple that doesn’t necessarily do everything perfect –
but they just seem to get it right. Today we peek in on the lives of happy couples and ask: what are those happy couples doing right?
Studio 5 Relationship Coach Matt Townsend shares five observations.
Happy Couples Understand That Each Partner Carries Their Own Sunshine
Happy couples understand that their happiness is much more determined by their individual choices and reactions than anything their partner can do. Research out of Northwestern University comparing Illinois lottery winners, paralyzed accident victims, and a control group found that lottery winners were no happier than anyone else in the study once the initial high of winning had dissipated. The study also showed that accident victims were also much happier than anticipated, reinforcing the idea that our happiness is more a factor of the individual than the circumstance. Healthy couples also understand this lesson by learning to bring their own sunshine to their marriage instead of letting their partner’s moods or life circumstances negatively influence their happiness. The healthiest couples realize that outside circumstances can influence happiness, but in the end, it is an individual choice which each person must make.
Happy Couples See and Share the Positive about Their Partner
Research by marriage expert Dr. John Gottman shows that how couples tell the story of how they met is a big determinant in their current state of happiness. When we are happy in our marriages, we tend to remember the past with more fondness and in turn tell more positive stories about the history of the marriage. When we aren’t as happy we tend to bring up more of the negative moments of the past. So just as our stories act as a barometer of our marriage, I’ve found in my work with couples that it also can act as a future script for our marriages. If we want to create a more positive future with our partner, there is enormous value in focusing on the positive with our partner. Couples who are more unified use more cooperative pronouns like “we” or “us” instead of “you” or “he” or “she” when describing events. Happier couples also tend to isolate a negative past event that involved their partner to that specific moment in the past, instead of generalizing that problem into their entire relationships. Healthier couples, even when describing negative events of the past still add an additional positive comment, or silver lining, at the end of their stories to show that not all things are bad. In the end, healthier couples see the good in their partners and although they recognize that there are negative traits in every human being, they also know that focusing on the good increases the likelihood that the good will grow. It will always be easier to live with someone who sees and points out the good that we do rather than the bad.
Happy Couples Master the Art of the Tough Conversation
The #1 complaint sited most often for couples who are entering into marriage counseling is the inability to talk about significant problems. This cancer of non-communication can literally turn a marriage upside down and drive partners further apart than any other problem. The inability to have the difficult conversations with our partner means that couples can’t actually move on from the problems of life and remain stuck in the same place with each other. The past issues begin to pile up like a dam in a river and future issues get stuck until eventually our lives get backed up. These conditions will usually remain until one partner can no longer take it and will either say or do things that can permanently damage the relationship. The key to healthy relationships is learning the art of effectively managing our toughest conversations and learning to overcome our most reactive communication patterns of fight or flight. Healthy couples that recognize they can’t solve problems together, make it a point to read books, attend workshops, counseling or other methods to learn the skills. They set speaking rules and actively practice good communication every day and create weekly time together to deal with difficult issues.
Happy Couples Balance the Couple and the Crowd
Overall, today’s couples have higher and higher expectations for togetherness than couples of the past and are becoming much more insular and pair-focused than married couples in the past. Research shows that married couples tend to spend more time with each other and less time with extended family, friends, community and other social networks. They also are less inclined to be politically active and are becoming more dependent on having more of their communication needs met exclusively by their partner. This moving focus from more socially participative couples to more partner dependent, although seemingly positive, can put enormous pressure on the relationship. Marriage historian, Stephanie Coontz from Evergreen State College says, “This puts a huge strain on the institution of marriage. We often overload marriage by asking our partner to satisfy more needs than any one individual can possible meet.” Just as being unable to disconnect effectively from your parents and friends can hurt marriage, so too can being so focused on your partnership that you fail to grow other parts of your life. The best answer found in the healthiest couples is a nice balance of both. The ideal is a focused, communicative partnership with a strong social network and time for individual activities that improve your personal and social well being. It’s the break we all need!
Happy Couples Reenergize the Marriage with Three Ideas: New, Exciting and Together
Research shows that couples that spend more time doing fun and exciting things have higher marital satisfaction than those that don’t. Just as you can’t expect to maintain a day of hard work without some food in your stomach, you shouldn’t expect to run a marriage without providing some source of energy for it to run on. The best way to create energy in your relationship is by trying new and exciting things. The optimal word there is new. Brain science research shows that when we try new and exciting things our brain makes chemicals of dopamine and norepinephrine to reward you for the activity. These chemicals just happen to be the same chemicals that are shared in the early romantic times of yearning love, when you couldn’t stop thinking of each other. So, the more you create new and exciting experiences together, the more likely your brain is to connect those feelings with your partner, which over time, will create a more positive and energizing relationship together. So when planning your date nights, think about three simple words, New, Exciting and Together.
For more great relationship advice from Matt, attend:
Smart Life for Women with Matt Townsend
“How to Improve Your Relationship Single-handedly”
Thursdays from 1:00 – 2:30 pm
$15 per person