For one, the happiest couples feel secure enough to speak their mind.
Couples therapists get a behind-the-scenes look at a wide range of relationships – from the healthiest ones to the most toxic.
This unique perspective gives them insight into what sets the strongest couples apart from the rest of the pack. We asked therapists to pinpoint what these couples do differently. Below, they share their observations.
1. They speak their minds
The happiest couples feel secure enough in the relationship to express their true feelings without worrying that things will fall apart.
“It’s as if the communication door is left wide open for feelings to flow through freely,” Atlanta clinical psychologist Zainab Delawalla tells HuffPost. “If there is an issue or source of tension, they can find ways to discuss these things with their partner in a way that doesn’t threaten the relationship.”
And when they get good news – like an unexpected promotion at work – they’re excited to tell their partner. They don’t have to worry about coming across as boastful or making their partner feel jealous or inferior.
“They feel safe in the knowledge that their partner cares for them enough to both celebrate their successes and work through difficulties with them,” Delawalla says. “It is a relationship where speaking one’s mind doesn’t feel risky; it feels healthy.”
2. Their conversations go beyond the surface level
Talking about quotidian stuff is part of sharing a life: How was work today? Did you empty the dishwasher yet? But people in the happiest relationships understand the value of diving deeper and prioritise more meaningful conversation.
“They don’t just discuss how their day went and what they thought was funny on YouTube,” Joanne Frederick, a licensed mental health counsellor in Washington, D.C., tells HuffPost.“They delve into what makes them happy, their dreams, goals and ambitions.”
If you need some inspiration, these questions from psychologist Arthur Aron can be great conversation starters.
3. They give each other the benefit of the doubt
Happy couples assume positive intent. When their partner disappoints them or hurts their feelings, they don’t jump to conclusions like “They only care about themselves” or “If they loved me more, they wouldn’t have done that”
Instead, they start the conversation by saying, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but I want you to know that I felt hurt when you did X,” Delawalla says. “Then the conversation can quickly move on to attending to the hurt feelings or problem-solving so it doesn’t happen again.”
This approach allows couples to be more forgiving with each other and helps both parties move forward more quickly, she added.
4. They pursue their own hobbies and interests
In the honeymoon phase of a relationship, it’s not uncommon for couples to want to spend almost all of their time together, Frederick says. But as time goes on, it’s important for both partners to nurture their individual interests, hobbies and friendships separate from the romantic relationship.
“One partner might want to join a book club while another might want to be in a tennis league,” Frederick says. “Happy couples take an interest in the activities that their partner is engaging in. A successful marriage does not mean that the couple is joined at the hip 24/7. In a marriage with trust, both partners feel secure enough that the other can pursue hobbies that fulfil them.”
5. They’re gentle with each other
This might include speaking in a warm tone of voice, calling each other by affectionate nicknames and peppering in hugs, kisses and other little displays of affection throughout the day.
“When [couples] do inevitably snap at each other on occasion, they quickly return to the ongoing state of gentleness,” Los Angeles psychologist David Narang tells HuffPost. “This sets the stage for each to enjoy an ongoing relaxed physiological state far from fight-or-flight.”
6. They fight fairly
Even the happiest couples are bound to disagree now and then. When conflict arises, they know how to hash things out without resorting to low blows, name-calling or dredging up past hurts.
“Unhappy couples tend to veer into insults about extended family, cheap insults and comments about their partner’s physical appearance,” Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City, tells HuffPost. “Those who address the topic are much more likely to come to an amicable resolution without saying something they will regret later.”
7. They adopt a builder’s mindset
Happy couples set high expectations for the quality of the relationship, with the hope of creating “an emotionally warm safe haven” for each other, Narang says. If they haven’t achieved that yet, they don’t get discouraged and throw their hands up. Rather, they focus on what they can do individually – and how they can support one another – to reach their shared goal.
“These partners patiently and persistently drive at that elevated relationship, crafting their skills as partners in the relationship with every bit as much devotion as they give to developing themselves in their careers,” Narang says. “They each expect to work at building the couple and know that they will each be tolerating emotional discomfort at times while doing so.”
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