5 Things Blissful Couples Do
We all know those folks who, even after years together, still can't seem to get enough of each other. Here are five habits of the happiest pairs.
They Never Let the Third Date End
As time wears on, starry-eyed early conversations about dreams of traveling the world often give way to talks about maintaining the real house you live in together, shoveling the snow off its driveway or paying off its endless mortgage. But keeping up those revealing conversations is key to staying out of the unhappiness gulch, says Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. Orbuch has followed 373 Midwestern couples since 1986 in a large research study. Of those people who are very happy in their marriages, 98 percent say they intimately know and understand their partner. Half say they often share intimate details of their lives—their dreams, stresses, values and goals—with their partners (it's less than one-fifth for not-especially-joyous couples). She recommends that couples talk to each other for at least 10 minutes a day, but not about work, family or the relationship. (Her suggestions: "If you won the lottery, where would you go and why?" "Which parent were you closer to growing up?" or "If you could start over with any career, what would it be?") "Our partners change over time, and there are new things going on with them," Orbuch says. "That third date was novel and interesting and surprising, and it was wonderful. Have that third date again."
They Spend Some Mental Time in the Nosebleed Seats
Most couples try to see their partner's point of view when they disagree. But the trick to marital bliss might not be looking at an argument from the other side, a forthcoming study suggests, but from outside it altogether. Northwestern University social psychologist Eli Finkel and his colleagues asked married couples to spend just seven minutes writing about a recent fight with their spouse from the point of view of a neutral observer, three times over the course of a year. (We're envisioning a neutral observer in the cheap seats describing, say, a high-school play.) When the year was up, those couples had more satisfying, trusting and passionate relationships than couples who didn't do the writing exercise—not a bad return for the time it takes to watch a sitcom. To try it yourself, find the writing prompts on page 6 of Finkel's paper here, he says. "Then get out a piece of paper and a pen—and get started!"
They Think Small
Grand gestures? Terrific. But the small stuff really makes the heart do a little dance of joy: the cup of coffee waiting in the kitchen when you roll out of bed, the hamper of laundry your partner has washed and folded even though it's really your turn, the out-of-left-field compliment. The most blissful couples tend to be the most generous with one another in tiny ways, a 2011 study by the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project found. Of more than 1,400 pairs, those who freely did unasked tasks and showed unprompted affection were nearly three times as likely to be very happy as those who didn't. "These are acts that are above and beyond what's normally expected. ... The husband or wife notices there's a need and jumps in to fill it, or is trying to signal to their spouse that they love them by doing something that their spouse will enjoy," says W. Bradford Wilcox, the project's director.
They Find a Village
"We've heard the phrase, 'It takes a village to raise a child,'" Wilcox says. "Well, it takes a village to foster a good marriage, too." Wilcox and his colleagues have found that couples who enmesh themselves in communities that bolster their relationship, whether by having a network of supportive family and friends or being part of a religious community, are more satisfied even than loving couples who go it alone. Couples should be wary of friends or family members who, as great as they may be in other ways, don't support their marriage, Wilcox says. These are the people who highlight your spouse's missteps (like the friend who simply can't get past some thoughtless remark he made to you years ago or less-than-pleasing habit he has, even if you've moved on). He also warns against friends who tend to tear down their own partners. These folks don't have a lot of respect for your marriage, their marriage or marriage in general—and time spent with them may be best spent doing things rather than talking about things.
They Recycle Laughter
The happiest couples keep each other laughing—and the best part is, they don't even have to come up with new material year after year; a mere nod to the classics will do the trick. Couples who reminisced about a time they laughed together showed an increase in relationship satisfaction compared to couples who thought back to another good time in their relationship (or to a time they laughed apart), a 2007 study showed. Interestingly, the moments couples recalled together often weren't the ha-ha funny stuff (comedy bits, their best jokes). Many couples described events that seem, from the outside, downright unpleasant, like the pair who recalled a time they cracked up while racing through the airport, desperate to catch their flight before it left the gate, carry-on bags flopping around them. When confronted with a tense situation, harebrained escapade or vacation gone very wrong, sometimes you'll share a hysterical moment, says Doris Bazzini, a psychologist at Appalachian State University, who led the study. "When you find something funny with someone else, it's like you're sharing a worldview in that moment," Bazzini says. Reminiscing about the funny times, then, may remind you of that two-of-you-against-the-world feeling that laughing at a terrible—and somehow terribly funny—situation can stir up.
Next: 5 fights every couple has to have once
Next: 5 fights every couple has to have once