Every relationship is unique, and challenges inevitably will pop up. But some couples seem to get along better than others. They’re happier and more satisfied – in everyday life, with each other and in general – than others. So what's the secret?
To gain insight into what makes successful couples tick, we asked a therapist about the characteristics of people in these partnerships. Here are her observations:
1. They have great conflict management skills
It is natural to have disagreements—in fact, it’s healthy to have differences of opinions. However, when couples find themselves in a fight, are they able to fight fair? If not, it can lead to toxicity.
“Some people prefer to talk things through until they feel completely resolved, while their partner may be exhausted by this experience and would prefer to ‘drop it,’” says Katie Cunningham, licensed therapist in Chicago and program therapist at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.
“Openly, and calmly, communicating during an argument leads to opportunities for growth both individually and collectively,” she says.
So, talk it out and remain composed. Don’t shy away or bottle things up, and do not shut down or else it may lead to an explosion of feelings (and not in a good way!) down the road.
What’s more, learn to forgive during conflict to and get back to being happy together, working through problems and going back to love.
“Forgiveness is also an essential component to proper conflict management, as feelings of resentment can bleed into the fabric of a relationship, thus causing future problems,” she says. If you can forgive and forget, you can move forward with positives in mind.
2. They have clear and realistic expectations
You cannot expect your S.O. to know exactly what you want or are thinking all the time—you need to give direction and speak up.
“Expecting your partner to be a mind reader sets the both of you up for failure and disappointment. When you express your relationship needs honestly and directly, it prevents miscommunication,” she says, and healthy couples communicate these feelings and needs well.
“Holding high standards for your partner is healthy, however, it is important to assess how reachable these standards truly are,” she says. And help them succeed by providing explanation as to why you might need certain things.
3. They have self confidence
Healthy couples have confidence in the relationship because they have confidence in themselves too.
“It is often said that you must first love yourself before you can truly love others. As cliché as this may sound, it is absolutely true,” she says. “The happiest couples are those who are whole individuals, rather than void seekers,” she explains.
Typically, personal insecurity can lead to trouble in the relationship. However, we are all imperfect humans—so accept them and love yourself, working on self-improvement but not feeling defeated on that journey.
“If you or your partner struggle with insecurity, do not fret. You can absolutely grow with one another by encouraging the development of confidence,” she says. Work on supporting each other, helping them find inner self-love and acceptance and show appreciation for each other.
4. They have empathy
“Feeling truly and deeply understood by another person may be one of the most profound experiences in life. This is why it is essential to practice perspective-taking with your partner,” Cunningham says.
By imagining how they may feel, you'll be better equipped to support them, and you can feel happier and healthier together through that mutual compassion and understanding.
The world can already be judgmental enough, so why also have it in your relationship, too?
5. They are intimate regularly
Don’t let romantic gestures, touch and other sensations slip away. “Meaningful connection can look different for each person. Therefore, as a couple searches for intimate experiences with one another, it is important to remember that this can look completely different for everyone,” she says.
Yet, anything that brings about intimacy between two people will help keep the relationship healthy and loving.
“Some people find doing laundry together to be incredibly intimate, while others seek out emotional life stories and conversations,” she says.
And “given that sex is a more obvious example of intimacy, it is odd that some couples shy away from discussing their sexual desires,” she adds. Healthy couples discuss sex and other physical aspects, and they happen to enjoy it together for the most part through their open discussion and understanding.
“Each person should be communicating openly and honestly about their likes and dislikes in the bedroom. This will lead to happier individuals, and greater feelings of closeness,” she explains.
6. They have fun
It seems obvious, but lots of couples do not have that much fun together, especially after they’ve been married for years or might have a kid or be in a rut.
“Do you remember what it felt like when you and your partner first started dating? The exciting newness leaving you with constant butterflies anticipation? At some point, the fairy tale feelings may ware off a bit and people tend to surrender themselves to an autopilot-like lifestyle,” Cunningham says.
By refocusing on enjoying each other’s company and having adventures and fun times together, couples can be better prepared to handle the difficult seasons of life and also just stay more connected.
Knowing you can rely on your partner to be a consistent source of joy can be especially relieving—so find things that create that newness feeling or that hold you together as a strong unit no matter the years.