Fact: Relationships are hard. Even the healthiest couples put in their fair share of work, and unfortunately there is no “magic” formula to achieve monogamous bliss. However, there are certain habits that happy couples form in order to ensure their needs are fulfilled both individually and together.
Now, getting things right all the time is a lofty goal and one that is not likely, especially as you get more vulnerable and emotionally intimate in your relationship. However, making a conscious effort to cover a few important basis can be key to keeping your bond stronger and stronger with each passing day. And, don't worry, executing these steps shouldn't be entirely difficult. In fact, according to a study commissioned by eharmony in February 2018 and conducted by Harris Interactive, 64 percent of Americans reported to be "very happy" in their romantic relationships with a partner or spouse. If they can do it, you can do it.
To help you better understand some of these happiness-retaining components, two top therapists were tapped to reveal exactly what these habits look like — and how to apply them to your current status. Whether you’ve recently entered a new relationship, are in a long term commitment, or are single and just want to brush up on ideas for future use, below are some of the most effective things you and your partner can do to experience true happiness.
Habit #1: Keep Your Goals Aligned
To start, Dr. Chloe Carmichael, NYC-based expert clinical psychologist, recommends talking openly with your significant other to align your intentions and ensure you have the same reason for being in the relationship. Communicating with your partner on a regular basis to establish the same goals, both short and long term, is the key to success.
For instance, if one person is in the relationship looking for a good time, with no intention of a future with their partner, and the other person is hoping to get married and have children eventually, this could cause major problems down the road. “Developing a ‘mission statement’ as a couple can be very helpful. In order to achieve happiness with your partner, you have to start with the foundation. First and foremost, make sure you are on the same page,” Carmichael explains.
“If you’re in a committed relationship and there is a future-oriented aspect coming into play, talk through the pacing as well,” she suggests. If you see yourself having kids in the next three years, moving to a new city, and so on, voicing those needs are crucial. “There is a stigma around these types of talks and it tries to tell us that women who talk about this are desperate or uptight — but I say the opposite is true. It means you’re discerning, strong, and know what you want,” Carmichael concludes.
Habit #2: Be Vocal About What You Want And Need
Using your voice can be considered an extension of the above in the sense that clear communication is something that happy couples practice daily, not just when they want to establish goals. “Don’t wait around assuming your partner can read your mind,” says Tracy Litt, certified professional coach and founder of The Litt Factor. By expressing yourself vulnerably and honestly from the get-go, you’ll save yourself from self-inflicted frustration and create a deeper connection with your significant other. By creating a mutual understanding to always talk things out, good or bad, you’ll set an expectation of openness and ultimately be happier in your relationship. “Even if this is a new skill for you and your partner, start working the muscles now. Being able to express yourself in a healthy way is essential,” Litt advises.
Dr. Carmichael elaborates on the sentiment, suggesting that in addition to communicating needs to your partner, you should also communicate dealbreakers. There are non-negotiables in every relationship, and what that looks like to the individual can be very different. Some people have open relationships and that works for them, where others view infidelity as a total dealbreaker. “Be clear about what is and isn’t OK,” Carmichael adds. “There is no universal set of rules. You have to establish them individually and as a couple. You have to confide in one another.”
Habit #3: Practice Reflective Listening
Even for the happiest couples out there, it’s unrealistic to expect smooth sailing at all times. In fact, arguments can be healthy and productive. Whether you find yourself in a heated argument or a small disagreement with your significant other, reflective listening can be a simple yet powerful tool to reach a resolution in a way that allows for both you and your partner to be heard.
“Reflective listening works like this: One person says what they think or feel, uninterrupted, for 60 seconds. The listener then repeats back what the speaker said, in a way that conveys that a reasonable person could feel that way,” Dr. Carmichael thoughtfully explains. The idea is that when the listener repeats it back, they aren’t using a sarcastic or condescending tone, but rather, they’re demonstrating that they were listening and that they understand what their partner said. Once the speaker is satisfied with the way the listener repeated the information, they will then reverse roles — the listener becomes the speaker, and you can repeat the process as many times as needed.”
This exercise not only teaches you to listen when emotions are running high and people are not feeling heard, but it can also be incredibly grounding while restoring respect and trust.
Litt agrees, adding, “No one knows how to listen because very rarely are we listened to. Put your ego down. You do not need to be right — you need to be connected. When your partner is expressing themselves, validate them and acknowledge what they are saying without defending yourself. Simply be there, listen, and hold the space.”
Habit #4: Say You’re Sorry
Being able to easily apologize is one of the most profound things you can do in a relationship, according to Litt. Not only does it demonstrate courage, but it also shows the humanity in you. Oftentimes there is pressure to be perfect, or to be happy all the time, or to behave a certain way — but that’s not a sustainable reality. There will be ups and downs in any relationship, and the best way to overcome them is by knowing when to apologize as well as when to accept an apology. “Accept your partner's apology when it happens,” Litt adds. “You would want the same in return, so act accordingly. Without apologies and forgiveness, your relationship will spin out in resentment.”
Carmichael notes that with a heartfelt apology should also be a willingness to change. For example, if you’re late to a dinner date and this annoys your partner, embedded in your apology should be the idea that you’ll be on time moving forward. If you are offering an apology, also include what you’ll do to change it. That way, your partner can appreciate the fact that you’re being proactive, rather than harping on what you may have done wrong.
“There are two wings on a bird, and both are needed to fly," says Carmichael. "This is the analogy I frequently use to describe apologies and forgiveness to couples. Both need to happen in order to be happy and for the relationship to be successful.”
Habit #5: Try New Things Together
One way to ensure happiness is to not get too comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with having a favorite restaurant that you frequent often, but it’s also important to try new things to keep your relationship feeling fresh and novel. Designating date night can be great for busy schedules, but keep spontaneity when and where you can, too.
Carmichael notes that since we’re coming up on 2019, it’s a great time to get out the calendar and talk about five things you want to do in the new year. “Go to a hotel, make time for date night, take a class … find ways to see new sides of yourself and your partner," she says. "Familiarity breeds contempt, but it can also breed boredom.”
Litt suggests the new year as a great time to check-in with yourself and your partner. She suggests asking questions such as: “What’s worked well, what hasn’t worked, and where is there opportunity? What do I need more or less of from my partner, and what do they need more or less of from me? What do we want to accomplish this year? Where do we want to travel? What do we want to learn? After you move through it all, recommit to each other and the relationship, and get excited to enter another wonderful year together!”