What Makes "Happy Couples" Happy?
Last week one of my clients said, “I don’t even know any happy couples” and it made me reflect on all the couples I know. I wondered who would I say is “happiest” and why? As I thought of this it brought to mind research on relationships which often mirrors what we know about “happy” people.
Yes, it’s the old glass half full/half empty thing. When I think about the couples I know who seemed satisfied in their relationship they definitely share some common characteristics. At least one of the partners is generally more accepting and optimistic. Obviously there has to be a balance here which leads me to the next critical theme. They both operate in a “we” state of mind, often keeping the other person in mind, not in a co-dependent way the way you might with your best friend. One of my close friends who has been married to his wife for over 20 years, looked at me puzzled when we were last all together talking about relationships and said, “you know, you keep asking me about our relationship, but really I don’t think about it like that – I just think about her – she’s the one I can’t wait to get home to to talk about my day and hear about hers.” And I thought – wow! That’s after 25 years! Amazing!
Happy relationships involve appreciation for and about each other. That means seeing the other’s faults but not focusing on it. And it doesn’t mean you always agree – the same couple I cited above are often poking each other good-heartedly “why did you take that road," but neither takes the “poke” personally. Classic relationship research finds that happy couples nurture each other, they express their fondness for each other, making those connecting feelings explicit to each other.
It might make sense that sharing is important to relationship happiness. Sharing the chores, the stories, your history, the kids and the power. In fact, what surprised me is that something simple like sharing chores makes BOTH people happier and more appreciative. As mammals we don’t fare well when we’re alone or isolated, we do better when we feel like we have someone alongside us. They don’t have to fix it for us, or save us or prop us up, they just need to BE there. Knowing that is what really makes the difference, it gets us through the tough times and helps us turn toward our partner to problem-solve together rather than take the path alone.
It’s a practice that happy couples learn and go back to again and again.
So take a page from happy couples:
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Appreciate and validate the good things, contribution that he or she makes.
Share more and be alongside your partner’s successes and worries.
Tell your partner often and daily what you love about them.