We all know them. The couples who revel in each others’ company, are each other’s number one supporter and clearly prefer each other over everyone else. Lucky them, eh?
Well, it’s not so much luck as hard work, says relationship psychologist and author Susan Quilliam. That easy camaraderie and total togetherness actually takes real graft.
“From the outside looking in, other people’s relationships can look effortlessly strong. However, this is rarely the case. Good relationships take work and constant attention. Being in a long-term, committed relationship means finding a way to retain our own identity while making room for someone else’s at the same time as creating a new one – an ‘us’ or ‘we’, rather than an ‘I’ or ‘me’ – each party is able to take on and share their partner’s life goals,” she says.
This is just one of the signifiers relationship psychologist John Gottman, world-renowned for his work on marriage stability and long-term relationships, flags up as a sign of a healthy, committed partnership. Read on for seven more ways to build stronger bonds and happier futures.
1. Happy couples…communicate
Successful couples don’t experience fewer set-backs than the rest of us, they just deal with them differently.
“It’s important to keep talking when these ‘life events’ strike, no matter how anxious or tense you might feel,” says Susan. “Sharing the load and coming to a practical solution together help you strengthen and build confidence in your partnership.”
2. Happy couples…check in with each other
Long-term relationships – or more specifically, the people in them – change, so don’t assume you know everything about your other half.
“Don’t take your partner for granted,” says Susan. “Opinions, hopes and dreams evolve. Is that the case with your partner? I often hear one half of a couple insist he or she isn’t supported in their goals, only for these goals to be complete news to the other party.”
3. Happy couples…show empathy and are self-aware
If you’re lucky, says Christine Northam of Relate, you’ll have grown up with a healthy model of arguing.
“If your parents argued productively – they were able to ‘fight fair’ – it’s more likely you will too,” she says. “But even if it was all-out war, there are lessons you can take from that. You probably have a good idea of how hurtful that particular behaviour was, and how it’s something you’d rather not repeat. So stop, reflect, and take time out to get some perspective.”
4. Happy couples…stay physically close
This doesn’t necessarily mean sex. Regular touching, hugs, kisses and hand-holding all help build and reinforce feelings of closeness. A recent report from the US, published in The Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, found those couples who had been married for more than 10 years and still described themselves as ‘intensely in love’ were also the couples who showed most affection towards each other.
5. Happy couples…share common values
“Generally speaking, there are three indicators of how successful you’ll be as a couple,” says Susan. “These are common interests, complementary personalities and similar values. Of the three, sharing common interests is probably the least important, despite the fact that similar passions are what draw many couples together in the first place.
“Basic personality traits must be reasonably compatible, while common values – in my opinion, the most important of the three – must match,” says Susan. “Being constantly at war about the fundamental things in life that make you happy – family, friends, your work/life balance – is wearing and ultimately, rarely sustainable. These differences will grind a relationship down quickly.”
6. Happy couples…know definitions of love differ
“Your partner’s definition of what loves means, and what it means to be loved, might be different to yours,’ says Susan. “For instance, women like to be listened to, focused on, and appreciate small gestures such as their partner doing the washing up. They also like their partners to tell them they love them.”
Men, on the other hand, are much more likely to show ‘proof of love’ with gifts. In their eyes, the fact that the two of you are still rubbing along together means things must be going OK. Understanding and catering to this is essential in a happy partnership.
7. Happy couples…respect each other’s values
Happy partners understand that they sometimes have to do or put up with things they don’t like, because it makes the other person happy.
“If you have no problem turning a blind eye to an untidy house, yet still get the vacuum cleaner out because your partner hates mess, you’re saying, ‘I don’t understand it myself but I’ll help because you care about it and I love you’,” says Susan.
8. Happy couples…are committed
It sounds obvious, but you both have to want to be in the relationship to make it work.
“You need to place a higher value on ‘we’ than on ‘I’,” says Susan. “You have to show good will; prove that you to want to resolve issues and see them through.”