The Surprising Truth About What Makes Happy Couples Happy

Senior couple kiss situation in white isolated backgroundThey make it look easy, don’t they?

You know, those cheerful couples you see chatting away in the grocery line, holding hands in the movie theater; the ones who’ve been married forever and they’ve still got their spark.

Ever wonder, how do they do it? What do they know that I don’t?

Back when I was struggling in my marriage, everyone looked happier than my husband and I. On every street corner, in every cafe, every couple seemed to be radiating rainbows. It was hard to imagine them arguing about the idiotic nonsense that had us going in circles: arguing about how much soap to put in the dishwasher, how to pull dandelions. Arguing about who started the argument.

Maybe the happier couples were more compatible from the outset, I thought. Or they were smarter or luckier when choosing their spouse. Maybe their marriages had come with an instruction book. Maybe they were better able to follow instructions.

Then again, maybe not.

While it’s true that some couples have figured out a thing or two about how to stop arguing or how to not make a federal case over every piddling thing, and some can talk about highly-charged issues without blowing up, it turns out that what makes happy couples happy is something I’d never considered.

The surprising fact about happy couples is that…

They aren’t always happy.

At least not 24/7, jump-for-joy happy. In fact, the most successful couples I know will openly admit that they drive each other Are you crazy womannuts.

And not just a little nuts.

We’re talking fantasies of living in two separate houses, or their spouse taking a job in Siberia or being abducted by aliens.

Some have considered options more sinister than these.

What’s more, they’re willing to talk about it in a way that doesn’t make either of them want to lock up the steak knives.

Happy couples don’t always make “I-statements” or start every argument with a gratitude. They don’t feel Fourth-of-July-fireworks each and every time they make love — nor do they expect to.

Sometimes they exchange heated words or slam doors or roll their eyes in frustration. Sometimes they go to bed angry or one of them sleeps on the couch.

Sometimes they look exactly like unhappy couples — at least on the outside.

The difference, I’ve discovered, is what they do on the inside.

Happy couples:

1. Take struggle in stride. When faced with their inevitable difficulties, happy couples don’t freak out. They don’t say, “Our relationship is too difficult.” “We’re incompatible.”  “Let’s get a divorce.”

Rather than run from their struggles or protest their existence, they take a let’s roll up our sleeves stance, knowing that they’re in it for the long haul, knowing that relationship problems are bound to arise and they don’t clear up without effort.

2. Accept that disappointment is inevitable. As couples, we have to balance the seemingly contradictory notions that it’s our job to try to have what we want in our relationship while knowing full well that it’s not possible to have everything. It’s fine to set high expectations for ourselves, while at the same time remembering that even the best partner will sometimes let us down. We don’t have to like being disappointed, we just have to deal with it gracefully.

iStock_000005938152Small3. Safeguard their relationship. If you think of your relationship as something precious, something that comes along once in a lifetime, then it makes sense to behave in ways that nurture and protect it.

Happy couples keep in mind that their actions and words have an impact, so they carefully consider them. They know, for example, that in a fight they can raise their voice, but not swear; they can be as grumpy as they want, but it crosses a line if they’re mean.

If I use the word stubborn, my husband feels criticized. But he doesn’t mind it at all if I say he’s being persistent. And he knows about me that unless the house is on fire, I’m not willing to talk about anything upsetting before bed.

Being the guardian of one’s relationship doesn’t mean tip-toeing around important issues or resentfully complying just to keep peace. It means making it your intention to be as kind and respectful as possible, knowing that doing so builds trust and good will.

4. Fight without hate. It’s one thing to be angry at your spouse for something he or she did. It’s another to express your upset in the form of contempt. For some people it can be challenging to separate the two: to condemn the action without condemning the actor.

If you have a fighting style where you fight to the death, if you go after your partner intending to hurt, keep in mind that the casualties of your war will be one or both of you — and possibly your marriage.

5. Know how to repair. No relationship will be free of difficulty or conflict. And no matter how well-meaning we are as partners, none of us will be a candidate for sainthood. Given that, it’s essential that we learn to repair.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, repair begins with one person moving toward the other with an intention to heal. Effective couples are able to both apologize and forgive and to own up to the part they played in the difficulty.

6. Accept that, no matter how hard they work at it, some issues will never resolve. Research has shown that 69% of marital conflicts are unresolvable. No matter how we approach them. No matter how nicely we ask.

My first thought upon learning this was, “What a relief! Followed by, “Does this mean that my husband will never hang up his coat?”

Every couple will have their perpetual conflicts, based on the fundamental differences between them — differences in their personalities and their preferences and the ways they view the world. Differences that will, unfortunately, never cease to exist.

Rather than take an “oh, no!” attitude when their recurring struggles arise, happy couples take an “oh, this again,” attitude. Instead of repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) struggling to agree, they acknowledge the unresolvable nature of the problem and approach it with acceptance and surrender, and best of all, humor.

If you’re struggling in your marriage, take heart. No matter how dismal things have gotten, no matter if you’ve got three wheels off the edge, if you want to have a more satisfying marriage, give it a go. The difference between unhappy couples and happy ones may not be as dramatic as you think.

Why not choose one thing on this list? Why not start today?

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9 Crucial Questions to Ask Yourself Before Calling the Divorce Attorney

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None of us gets married thinking that five, ten, even twenty years down the line we’d be so frustrated or miserable that we’d be considering divorce. Most of us step into marriage with hope and enthusiasm, determined to have ours be a marriage that lasts.

But marriage is difficult in ways few of us are prepared for. And rarely do we have all the tools we need for success. Nor do we have a guidebook or a road map to make the journey easier.

Some couples manage to navigate the rough patches. Other couples get stuck and are unable to move forward. For some, their struggles constitute deal-breakers.

Clients often ask me, “How can I be sure?” hoping for a checklist or a set of clear guidelines that will help them decide whether or not to divorce. Many have asked me to tell them outright whether I think there’s hope for their marriage or if it’s time to get out.

My answer is always the same: Divorce is a personal decision and only you can know what’s right for you.

Unless you are in physical danger and need to immediately leave your relationship in order to keep yourself safe, I suggest you press the pause button and consider the following questions:

1. Do I want a divorce or do I want a better marriage with the person I’ve picked?

There’s a big difference between an unhappy marriage and an un-salvageable one. Couples often tell me they’re contemplating divorce when what they’re facing are ordinary — though difficult — relationship challenges that they have been unable to resolve. Divorce is a radical step to take when what you’re seeking is change.

2. Have I sought good quality help? And have I given it my all?

Not all couples therapy is created equal. If you’re seeing a couples therapist and you’re not making progress, it’s not necessarily a sign that it’s time to divorce. If you think that your marriage is worth fighting for and therapy isn’t helping, find another therapist to work with before calling it quits.

And never, ever, let a therapist tell you that you’re beyond help.

Remember, however, that even the most skilled marital therapist cannot step in and miraculously “fix” your marriage. Nor will he or she fix what you think is wrong with your spouse. Growth and change require effort and commitment on your part. I firmly believe that if two people want to work through their difficulties they can, but only if they’re willing to put in the necessary effort.

Stress3. Have we been under such severe stress that the relationship has been strained to the breaking point?

Every relationship will have its share of stressors. Sometimes the stressors are so overwhelming that everything else is completely overshadowed by them. When faced with stressors such as the loss of a child, financial ruin, protracted illness, or infertility, the rates of divorce skyrocket to as high as 80%.

Relationships are a lot like houses. When exposed to a small earthquake, the structure can weather the shaking with little or no damage. But in a 9.0 earthquake, even the best engineered structure will crack.

In a highly stressed system, there’s little reserve and therefore little resilience. Even small difficulties can feel insurmountable.

Before choosing divorce, consider getting help with whatever practical issues you’re facing and the grief and loss you both feel.

4. Have I seriously looked at my role in our difficulties?

No one is perfect. No matter what the issues are, no matter how difficult a partner we’ve picked, we all contribute, in some way, to the problems we have. Perhaps we’re provocative, or dismissive, or we don’t keep our word. Perhaps we’ve been unwilling to speak up, or be honest, or tackle our marital difficulties head on. Maybe we’re too quick to flare or to blame.

Taking responsibility for your part isn’t the same thing as being fully at fault. No matter what’s gone on, you’re not responsible for your partner’s behaviors and responses. You are, however, responsible for yours.

Accurately assessing your part in the mess will help you identify behavior changes that might improve your marriage enough that you’ll decide to stay put and work on them.

5. Was this whole thing a giant mistake or have we just run into trouble too challenging for our skill set?

Now and again I meet couples whose relationship wasn’t good from the start. Several were arranged marriages and others were entered into so hastily that the partners barely knew what they were getting themselves into.

If this is your situation and you think you want to divorce, take note of what did and didn’t work in your marriage and use what you’ve learned to help inform your future choices.

6. If sex is in the forefront of my thoughts about divorce, have I been courageous in my attempts to deal with our sexual difficulties? Have I spoken up? Have I taken risks? Have I been willing to seek help?

Whether the problems are about the lack of sex or difficulties with the sex that you’re having, many sexual problems can be remedied with the right kind of help.

No couple is so sexually “compatible” that they have all the same inclinations and interests, the same ideal frequency and a desire to always say yes at the exact same time. And no couple has sex that’s as seamless as it looks in the movies.

People too readily think that they’re sexually incompatible, that it’s hopeless, when the problem is more likely one of poor communication and a need for more resilience, flexibility and a capacity to be generous.

Try talking about what’s good and what’s problematic, what you like and what you wish for, even though the conversation may be uncomfortable. Be open to your partner’s feedback and consider ways you might do something new. Offer suggestions and solutions instead of complaints.

Before leaving your marriage due to sexual difficulties, why not reach out for help?

cd8d63e71ae983f3a5953b75d75cfa647- Are my standards for marriage (and my spouse) impossibly high?

I’m not suggesting people “settle” for scraps or bad treatment but I do suggest questioning the expectation of having both shooting stars and stability, having a high-powered, driven, high wage earner who loves to vacuum, can fix the screen door and whip up a five course meal while holding the baby.

8- Is there someone else?

When dealing with an affair or flirtation, an online romance, or a serious “outside” relationship, it can be quite challenging to figure out how to proceed.

You might ask yourself if the affair is a way of sidestepping unresolved issues in your marriage. Not all affairs are about serious marital trouble, but many are.

Trying to compare courtship to marriage is like comparing apples to oranges (better yet, passion fruit to oranges). Marriage, with its repetitive struggles and its everyday tedium can look tired and tarnished when held up against the sparkle and magic of a new relationship.

Note that 75% of affair relationships don’t last. So before tossing your marriage aside, you might consider putting some fresh energy into your marriage and see where that goes.

9- Do I still love my spouse? Love doesn’t heal all but sometimes love is hard to find under the sludge pile of anger and resentment, overwork, parenting and everyday stresses and struggles.

If there’s even a spark or ember left, it’s worth asking yourself, “can I re-ignite it?”
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What The Manicurist Said: Collective Wisdom For The Bride-to-Be

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It was a typical Saturday at the small neighborhood salon where I regularly go for my manicure and pedicure: a bevy of women giving and getting haircuts, perms and manicures, chatting in an upbeat banter over the background hum of classical music and blow dryers.

Across the room from where I was waiting, two young women sat side-by-side under a pair of hairdryers, giggling and pointing as they flipped through a dog-eared copy of Modern Bride.

Continue reading

10 Dumb Relationship Issues You Need To Quit Getting Worked-Up About

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Raise your hand if your spouse does something that drives you totally bonkers.

The wet towel on the floor. The toilet seat left up. The kitchen scissors that never end up back in the drawer.

Marriage is chock full of these petty irritations. Sometimes we joke about them. Sometimes we gnash our teeth over them.

Still, most of us would agree that putting the empty orange juice container back in the fridge is hardly worth getting ourselves all in a twist.

But, what is?

The mortgage payment mailed late?
The milk left out to spoil?
Consistent lateness?
A bad attitude?

Maybe.

Then again, maybe not. Continue reading

Why “Good Enough” Marriages Are Actually Great!

Cute couple in love with smiley, red heart and hugging.February is the month that relationship books hit the bookshelves, and every day brings a new research study or feature article asking the question, “How can a couple best keep love alive?” Continue reading