10 Things Happy Couples Do
Here's the movie version of what happy couples do: They always laugh at each other's jokes, cook dinner together, fly off to romantic getaways, and have lots of great sex (they never do laundry). The real-life version looks a lot different but creates stronger, richer marriages in the long run. The happiest partners aren't constantly chasing fireworks and bliss. The secret to their success is much simpler, say researchers: Real-life happy couples do 10 things to keep their love strong.
Let Love Build
If you think the heart-pounding rapture of a new relationship is what long-term love is like, you're in for a big surprise. Couples who start out thinking the fiery intensity of new romance will last forever lose 50% of their passion for each other after just 18 months, according to Harvard psychologist Robert Epstein, PhD. The couples who grow happier over time are the ones who understand that love evolves, becoming calmer, deeper, richer, and more powerful.
The happiest couples do something other couples often don't: They're kind to each another. It's not about nightly back rubs and offers to do the dishes, either (although those never hurt). Happy partners simply don't get mean or nasty with each other, even during arguments. "Happy couples treat each other like best friends," says David Penner, PhD, assistant clinical director of the Gottman Relationship Institute. "They're nice to each other across the board. That's what builds loving feelings.
Do This in Bed
Surprise: Fooling around -- aka, sex -- is not tops on the list of the most important things happy couples do in bed. What is? Talking. Spending a few minutes chatting every night before sleep lets you catch up, make plans, and discuss problems in a quiet, tender setting, explains University of Minnesota family social science professor Paul Rosenblatt, PhD, author of Two in a Bed: The Social System of Couple Bed Sharing.
Dinners for two are cozy, but dinners for four are just as important in a relationship. Bonding with other couples actually strengthens your own relationship, according to a 2010 study at Wayne State University. Having open, intimate conversations with other twosomes reinforces your own sense of togetherness. Being close to them makes you feel closer to each other.
Face Your Differences
Most couples have their differences, and the more you have, the greater the seeming threat to your relationship, according to Dr. Epstein. But it's how you handle them that really matters. Happy couples bring their differences out into the open rather than denying or dismissing them. "Put issues on the table, and look for ways you can work around them," he says. "The process of examination and renewal makes the threats diminish."
Skip Some of the Small Talk
Couples who have deep conversations are far likelier to be happy than couples who always keep it light, according to a 2010 study in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers report that the happiest couples have twice as many substantive discussions -- and far fewer superficial ones -- as the unhappiest couples.
Be Equally Committed
If you're both pretty lazy when it comes to working out your problems, you can be just as happy as partners who put in a lot of effort. What matters is that you both feel you devote the same amount of care and effort -- a lot or a little -- to keeping your relationship strong, according to a 2011 study in Psychological Science. Happiness doesn't necessarily depend on how intense your level of commitment is, but on how mutual it is.
It's impossible to avoid arguments entirely. In fact, they happen frequently. But the happiest couples keep conflicts from becoming confrontations. They soften their approach when bringing up tough issues. And neither feels as if one of them always gets his or her way. Each occasionally yields to the other.
Accentuate the Positive
Happy couples make at least five times as many positive statements to and about each other as negative ones, even when they are arguing, says Dr. Penner. Yes, you're right, it's not always easy to be nice (you did read slide 3, didn't you?), but it pays off by solidifying the bond between you.
Hang In There
Up to 80% of those who are most committed to marriage contemplate divorce at some point, says Dr. Epstein. But slogging through bad times can make both of you happier than ever. "If you can do that and get to the other side, it makes the relationship stronger," he adds. "It strengthens love."