We all know that "perfect" couple with the fun-loving Facebook wall and gorgeous Instagram feed. We also know how unhelpful they can be on those tough days when we feel like our relationships are on the rocks. They look so happy, so carefree—what am I doing wrong?
But those aren't the couples that we should be looking to for advice on marital bliss. The truly happy couples you know are the couples who you like to be around because their ease with one another makes you feel at ease, who can get real about lived relationship struggles while holding hands, who are constantly finding new ways to share their love with others—and who are typically anywhere from 50 to 80 years old. The truth is, it takes a lot of practice to get really good at marriage.
If you take a good hard look at these couples, you will find that they have built a strong foundation for a happy marriage by doing these five things every day.
01. Give themselves permission.
Did you know that all couples have problems? That's right, even that "perfect" couple. In fact, according to storied marriage researcher and counselor, Dr. John Gottman, about two-thirds of our problems are unsolvable or “perpetual” problems.
The path to a happy marriage is to give yourself permission to be the couple that you are—with all your problems and all your quirks. It's important to stop seeing your marriage for what you feel it should be and accept their marriage for what it is: not perfect.
02. Get perspective.
When we are in the weeds of the hard times in marriage, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. To avoid getting into this kind of a rut, it's important to make a habit of taking a step back together to gain a little perspective.
Talk to other couples to find out how their marriage works. What do they do that you would like to try? What works for them that wouldn't work for you? The best place to start is your own parents marriage, because most often it's our parents marriage we unconsciously desire to mirror—even though we are our own unique couple and our husbands are not our fathers.
03. Practice positive sentiment override.
This sounds like something from the Matrix, but let me explain. Dr. John Gottman found that happy couples share one very important common denominator: their positive sentiments overcompensate for their negative sentiments at a ratio of 5:1. That is, for every one negative in their marriage, there were five positives.
How do you achieve positive sentiment override? Zach Brittle, Gottman certified therapist and cofounder of ForBetter.us, explains it well. "Every positive interaction between you and your partner is worth a penny. Each negative interaction is worth a nickel," Brittle explains. "In order to maintain Happy–Stable status, it is critical that you put five pennies in for every nickel taken out." Keep gathering positive pennies so that when a nickel is removed, you don't feel the pinch.
Happy couples are constantly storing positive sentiment. They seek out quality time, words of affirmation, expressions of gratitude, and practice relationship building rituals so that when a relationship withdrawal is made they have beaucoup bucks to make them feel secure.
04. Ask for what they want.
Women have a bad reputation for expecting men to read their minds (and it not altogether unwarranted), but let's get real here—men are not exactly masters at expressing their needs either. "We've all got problems," as my husband likes to say.
But here's the thing, if you want to get good at marriage, you have to get good at asking for what you want. As Zach Brittle explains, most people don't ask for what they need or want for three reasons: they assume, they are afraid, and they don't know how. But, as Brittle explains, none of these are good reasons not to speak up.
Asking for what you want, and responding to the desires of your partner, helps build clarity and trust in a relationship, which fortifies your marriage for the long run. Happy couples who trust one another enough to express their desires, are free from a lot of the heartache and disappointment that burden many marriages today.
05. Tell each other ‘I like you.’
Saying "I love you" is important and—ever since the big "L" bomb was dropped in our early dating days—most of us have gotten into the habit of saying it. But sometimes, you know your spouse loves you and what you want to know is, do they like you anymore?
The beautiful thing about love is the way it overcomes all of our little deficiencies and frustrating personality quirks. But, that's just it isn't it? Love doesn't imply "like" or even friendship, it's heroic. And, while heroic love is important in marriage, we also really want our partner to think we are fun, to appreciate us, to laugh at our jokes, to enjoy spending time us—to like us!
So share in common interests by engaging in activities you both enjoy. Set aside a time each day to talk (just the two of you). Practice turning toward each other. I don't mean this in just a literal sense, I mean pay attention to each other, praise each other. And when you do this, be specific. Tell him when he looks "really, really, ridiculously good looking" (Zoolander anyone?), and don't forget to tell him how much fun you have with him, that he is your best friend—that you like him, a lot.
Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan