Most relationships start out happy, but often, the happiness does not last. As everyday life creeps in ever so slowly, the initial excitement about your partner wanes, and we may not try so hard anymore to constantly be on our best behavior.
Ultimately, happy relationships take some work, just like it takes some work to keep your body healthy and your house in good shape.
But if you are conscious of your relationship and your partner, it actually doesn't take that much. And it's a lot less work to keep a good relationship going than to try to repair it once things have gone seriously sour.
Have you ever wondered how to have a happy relationship? Are there any secrets to a happy relationship others know but you don't?
Sometimes it really seems some people know more than others. Here's Alex and Jenna's experience:
When Alex and Jenna moved to their new home, what excited them most was not the home but the hiking. Hiking was one of the reasons they moved where they did. They had some flexibility in where to live—Alex is a salesman who feels he can sell pretty much anything to anybody and Jenna is a teacher who feels she can teach pretty much any elementary-school child—so they chose their residence for the excellent hiking and the reasonable, if not great salaries in their community.
As soon as they moved in, they joined a local couples hiking club, and they are still with it, 27 years later. That said, they are the only original couple still with it. Some of the couples moved away, of course; a few lost their health and could no longer hike; but more of them split up.
What did Alex and Jenna know that kept them together? Seven simple secrets to a happy relationship. And here they are.
1. Respect your partner.
Some years ago I was giving a talk on love and an audience member came up to me afterward to tell me a story that he thought related to my work. Call the guy Tom. To tell the truth, I don't even remember his name.
Tom was a serial entrepreneur. He would start one business, then another, then another. His wife, call her Tina, knew when she married him what he did for a living and, before the marriage, never objected. But entrepreneurial work is risky. And Tom went through a streak where one venture after another blew up.
Tom was using the proceeds of one business to fund another but now he was running not only out of luck but also out of cash. His wife gave his entrepreneurial ventures a vote of no-confidence and told him he really needed to find another line of work. There was a family to support and he was no longer adequately supporting them. It's easy to blame her but she had hungry mouths to feed and she was correct that the finances were going down the tubes. Tom believed he could succeed; she didn't, at least, not any longer.
This was the beginning of the end. They split up.
Perhaps you can guess the rest. Tom hit the bulls-eye and became very rich--after he and Tina broke up.
For Tom, Tina's vote of no-confidence left him unable to stay committed to the relationship. For Tina, Tom's not earning enough money led to more financial and other hardship than she could bear. Of course, there is more to me, you, or anyone than our work. But everyone wants to know their partner has respect for them. Tom felt he had lost Tina's respect, and probably, at some level, he was right. Without respect, it is hard to make a relationship work.
2. Support your partner.
Some years ago, I went through a very difficult period in my life. It seemed like one thing after another was going wrong.
At the time, I just did not see any way out of it: As soon as one bad thing seemed to be resolved, another would rear its ugly head. I was at wit’s end.
And I don’t know how I would have gone on except for…Karin, our triplets, and my children from my first marriage. Karin and the kids were just great.
At a time that I really needed support and felt as though there was no light at the end of the tunnel and never would be, I was out of ego strength, but my family provided it for me until I could get through the awful period.
Eventually, I came out of it. I know that bad times could happen again—today, tomorrow, next week, next year, or whenever.
It means a lot to me to know that, even when I can barely hold things together, Karin and the rest of my family will be there for me.
You don’t learn what your relationship is worth to you in easy times. You learn it during hard times.
And that is when I learned that what I have in Karin and my family is worth much more than pure gold.
Pure gold won’t get you through hard times. If you are with the right partner, he or she can and will.
3. Be gracious toward your partner.
In the early days of a relationship, partners are often on their best behavior toward each other.
But as time goes on, that best behavior often starts to fade. People sometimes become discourteous, unkind, and unpleasant, as though their partner is no longer worthy of gracious behavior.
To be gracious, according to the dictionary, is to be courteous, kind, and pleasant.
You don’t want your partner to act ungraciously with you; they don’t want that from you either.
Why do partners often become less courteous, kind, and pleasant as time goes on?
There are so many reasons. Perhaps they are no longer trying to prove themselves.
Perhaps they have started to take each other for granted.
Perhaps they have gotten too busy to think about being nice.
Perhaps they are distracted.
Perhaps they really just are unhappy with you.
There are lots of reasons. But so much of success in a relationship is just, well, being nice.
4. Find a way to be aware of your own idiosyncrasies and to live with your partner’s idiosyncrasies.
We all have our idiosyncrasies. Of course, none of us is perfect. We are not aware of many of our own idiosyncrasies -- our very own (and often, quirky) way of doing things and behaving.
But if you live with someone, almost for sure, they will become aware of your peculiarities, maybe before you ever do.
I never noticed before I tend to leave my shoes conveniently in the front hallways, ready for everyone to trip on.
I also didn’t notice that I seem always to leave the newspaper spread out over the dining-room table, hogging other people’s eating space as well as my own.
Then there is my waking up before 5 am. And those are only the ones I can talk about 😉
Idiosyncrasies sometimes seem cute or at least tolerable in the early days of a relationship.
But maybe after a few years and a few hundred times of being told not to do X, Y, or Z, those idiosyncrasies seem less cute.
If we all learn anything in a relationship, it is how hard it is to change our partner. We may succeed—but don’t count on it!
So what are we to do?
We can get angry with our partner, or, for that matter, with ourselves. But they probably won’t change a whole lot, and the older they are—or we are—the less likely we are to see change.
For the sake of your relationship: Learn to live with your partner’s idiosyncrasies, and with your own.
See the humor in them; or the humanity in them; or the sheer obstinacy people have even when they try to change.
It’s not hopeless. I stopped biting my nails—12 years into our marriage. I lost weight.
But that darn newspaper has a way of creeping onto the dining-room table and spreading itself out, and my shoes, when I’m not looking, creep right to the center of the front hallway.
Can’t blame me that they have a will of their own.
Make the best of it. And if you can’t, prepare to be frustrated, maybe every day of your life.
5. Argue constructively and keep a sense of perspective.
Unless the story of your love relationship is a war story, you probably don’t like arguing all that much.
But we all argue with our partners, sooner or later and probably sooner.
Arguments can help a relationship or they can be relationship killers.
They are relationship killers when they become destructive. One of you questions something that the other has done, or perhaps something about the other in general, and then the other of you criticizes the critic, outdoes the critic, and maybe throws in the kitchen sink for good measure.
The worst way to resolve an argument is to expand its scope so that it starts off being about one thing and then becomes about many other things that have nothing to do with what you first argued about.
Stay constructive: Don’t just criticize; say what you want to see changed and how you think that change could come to be.
Keep to the topic at hand; stay constructive; and focus on how your partner (and you) could act in a way that would solve the problem you have.
6. Listen: See and hear things from your partner’s point of view.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to see things from your partner’s point of view.
Do not assume that your point of view is the correct one or even the only one or at least the only one worth considering.
And don’t act like your point of view is so obviously correct that anyone in their right mind would agree with you.
So many arguments fail to be resolved simply because people fail to see things beyond their own nose and don’t even look beyond it.
Listen; get into your partner’s head; understand where they are coming from.
Hey, when I first come in the door, where the heck am I supposed to put my shoes anyway? Sure, we have a shoe rack, but by the time I get my shoes off, the kids are after me for something. It’s not my fault!
Well, yes, it is. Karin deserves better than to trip over my shoes, as do our kids and our guests.
Listen carefully and seek to understand why it is that, sometimes, we all screw up in major ways. And yes, we can do better, but only if we will admit to our flaws in the first place.
7. Be a giver.
We live in a world that is increasingly selfish and narcissistic. Psychological research actually shows an increase in narcissism among young people. This trend may be benign in some instances, but it definitely is not helpful when it comes to close relationships.
Give-and-take in a relationship has to total to 100%. If both partners are takers, they end up with a “give” deficit. When give-and-take balance each other out, we scarcely notice.
But when one person does almost all the giving, or both people seek to take more than they give, the relationship goes off-balance.
If you want your relationship to succeed, give more than you feel like you take. It’s important to give more, because sometimes our perception of what we are giving does not match our partner’s.
If both partners feel they give just a bit more than 50%, they may actually find themselves in a perfect balance of giving and taking.
There are lots of ways to give.
Ask your partner where they want to go out for dinner.
Do some chores without being asked.
Buy a special present or plan a surprise trip somewhere.
Make a special meal for your partner.
Surprise them with a gift they didn’t expect when it is not any special holiday.
Listen when you are eager instead to talk.
That extra give can be the key to success that makes for a wonderful relationship.
So these are the seven secrets to success in a relationship.
Don't forget: In everyday life, you, like everyone else, can get very busy, and your best intentions often can go to waste.
We've created a workbook for you that helps you put the seven secrets into practice by tailoring them to your own relationship. Download it below!