When you’ve been in a long-term relationship you develop certain habits that can sometimes be irritating to each other. We share the seven secrets of couples who have cracked the happiness code.
When certain behaviours start affecting your relationship, it can leave you both frustrated. Intensive relationship therapist and founder of Couples Help, Louis Venter, says there are various reasons why people may start to lose interest – sometimes it just boils down to unwanted behaviours that create resentment over time. Being aware of each other’s behaviours is a positive thing as it shows you have a good understanding of one another as a couple, adds Susan Krauss Whitbourne, author and professor of psychology. On the other hand, annoying behaviour patterns work against your relationship and have the potential to destroy them, Susan adds.
These seven habits keep couples together:
1. Keep talking
Giving your partner the silent treatment is never a healthy way to deal with conflict. ‘Stepping into isolation patterns, whether it’s through the silent treatment or manipulation to get your way is a big mistake,’ says Louis. How can you solve a problem if you slam the doors instead of talking about why you’re angry? The best way to deal with problems is through effective communication; if you both aren’t talking to each other this only causes more anger and distance.
2. Keep making an effort
‘One of the things that takes away the spark in relationships is when couples stop trying,’ says Louis. Getting too comfortable in the relationship, to a point where you’re no longer making an effort like you used to, can be detrimental. ‘Do things together with the purpose of creating closeness and intimacy, like going for a picnic, a hike or attending a fancy dinner party together.’
3. Avoid the urge to lay blame
One of the big mistakes people make is playing the blame game during times of conflict and frustration, says Louis, and failing to introspect on the part they also played in the issue. If you forget to buy milk and bread on your way home, don’t blame your partner for confusing you with a long to-do list. Never twist things around to suit you. Admit you forgot and apologise for it. Not owning up to your mistakes is unfair on your partner.
4. Limit social media
The addiction to smartphones and constantly being online has led to less human interaction. Most people no longer discuss things as much; instead of voicing their frustrations or telling their partner about their day at work, they’d rather post about it online. In Reclaiming Conversation: The power of talk in a digital age, professor, psychologist and
renowned media scholar, Sherry Turkle, argues how moving away from meaningful conversation and relying on our devices has threatened the development of meaningful relationships, whether it is in romance, friendships, or work.
She stresses the importance of reclaiming face-to-face interaction for more fulfilling relations. Put your phone down when talking to your partner and limit social media activity when watching a series together. Instead of joining the Twitter conversation about the latest episode of Our Perfect Wedding or Killing Eve, have a conversation about it between the two of you.
5. They put themselves first. Yes, really.
You need to be 100% fulfilled and happy with yourself first before expecting someone else to fill a void that wasn’t caused by them. It’s okay to have standards for how you want your partner to be and what you need from them, but you can’t expect them to be your everything. Individual happiness and contentment is vital, says Louis.
6. Trust each other
Jealousy is usually a result of insecurity, and can lead to control issues. You’ll start questioning your partner about everything and wanting to know their every movement, who they’re talking to at all times, and even going as far as checking their phones. Eventually this will become too overwhelming and inevitably push your partner away. If you have a valid reason for the distrust, like a past infidelity, you need to discuss it with them and work towards moving on from it.
7. Resist comparisons
No one likes to be compared to someone else; this makes your partner feel unappreciated and not good enough for you. Instead of making an effort to change, this only leads to bitterness. Don’t take them for granted either. Once in a while, tell your partner all the things you appreciate about them – even if it’s something as simple as making you coffee in the morning, how they always remember to buy your favourite chocolate when doing the groceries, or keeping the children busy so you can sleep in for longer on a Saturday morning.
Breaking the pattern
Why is it so hard to change something when your partner has often voiced their concerns? ‘It’s human nature to be reluctant and unable to look at our own faults and flaws. We find it difficult to do self-reflection and take responsibility for the hurt we cause,’ explains Louis. People also tend to point fingers instead of rationalising with someone and making them understand why they want them to adjust their ways. Rather than blaming someone for said tendency, it’s best to rather request change, says Louis.
‘For example: “You never phone me and I’m the one who’s always calling first. You’re selfish and never think about me.” This is shaming and blaming your partner. A better approach would be: “Please phone me because I miss you. I know you get busy at work, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d make time, just once a day, to connect with me.” Here, you are making a request for change.’
Don’t be defensive
‘Whenever a couple becomes frustrated, they start to drift apart and enter into a coping stage. This is where couples avoid closeness and interaction of any kind, including intimacy, leading to the relationship dissolving,’ says Louis.
If your partner has shared with you before that they don’t like it when you do certain things, don’t fight with them. Ask them to explain why they don’t like something and try to understand their position. ‘Unresolved issues can cause your partner to feel invisible and unheard, and can lead to them only co-existing in the relationship, as opposed to being actively involved in it.’
If all else fails…
‘Therapy helps couples understand what is causing their conflict and how to resolve it. Even though it may not seem that way while caught up in a state of conflict, obstacles could help couples form a stronger bond, because through conflict resolution comes understanding each other better, which always leads to growth.’ One huge mistake people make is striving for perfection. Unfortunately, no relationship is perfect. Happy couples have learned to love each other, flaws and all.
3 ways to communicate
Louis advises couples to follow these steps:
Ask your partner for a few moments of their time to speak to them. Choose a time when you’re both at home and in a good mood, like over the weekend.
Always sit close to each other, where you can hold each other’s hands. Closeness makes it less likely for either of you to jump into defence mode.
Use words of kindness and love. Make sure to communicate deep motivations and feelings behind the frustration. And where possible, show that the change will benefit both of you, not just yourself.
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