SALT LAKE CITY -- We all know that couple -- the couple that doesn't necessarily have it perfect, but they just seem to have it good. 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. Healthy couples have learned 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.
The cancer of non-communication can literally turn a marriage upside down and drive partners further apart than any other problem.
Happy couples see and share the positive about their partner
Research by marriage expert Dr. John Gottman shows that the way couples tell the story of how they met is a big indicator 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. Conversely, when we aren't as happy we tend to bring up more of the negative moments of the past.
Happier couples tend to isolate a negative past event involving their partner to that specific moment in the past instead of generalizing that problem into their entire relationship. 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.
Happy couples know that focusing on the good increases the likelihood that the good will grow. Just as our stories act as a barometer of our marriage, it also can act as a future script. If we want to create a more positive future with our partner, there is enormous value in focusing on the positive with our partner. 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 No. 1 complaint cited most often for couples in 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 means couples can't move on from the problems of life and instead remain stuck in the same place with each other. Past issues pile up like a dam in a river and future issues get stuck until eventually their entire 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 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.
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Happy couples balance the couple and the crowd
Today's couples have higher and higher expectations for togetherness than couples of the past and are becoming much more insular and pair-focused. Research shows 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.
"This puts a huge strain on the institution of marriage," said Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College. "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 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 wellbeing. It's the break we all need.
Happy couples reenergize the marriage with three ideas: New, exciting, 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. 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. 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.