Yesterday a close friend told me that his daughter-in-law dropped his son off at their house and said, “you can have him back, I want a divorce!” Another failed relationship. Two more children who have to split their affections and their lives in half. Can anything be done to stop this avalanche of tragedy which seems to be sweeping across the world? Is your relationship worth nurturing? Of course it is.
A happy relationship is a safe, secure place where a couple can be comfortable, nurtured, supported, encouraged and loved. It’s a place to retreat to when the world beats you down. A place of adventure, joy, and fulfillment. A lifetime friendship and partnership that is the foundation of a happy family.
If this description seems foreign, even impossible to you, take heart. If you’re willing to work at it, a happy relationship is achievable in the relationship you’re in right now. And, it’s worth saving. Research shows that you are 30% more likely to be happy in your current relationship than if you moved on to someone else. I once spoke with a woman who said, “If I’d have known how hard my second marriage was going to be, I’d have worked harder at my first.” Besides, if you have children, they are entitled to an intact family with a father and mother who love one another.
After 27 years in my own happy marriage and having interviewed dozens of couples with successful marriages — measured in decades, not days — I’ve learned 6 keys that are essential to a happy relationship. These keys spell out the word CREATE because I’ve discovered that happiness in relationships is not something that happens spontaneously. It is something that you create.
In saying that I have a happy marriage, I’m not implying that my relationship is perfect. We are two imperfect humans sharing a life and building a family together. By definition, that means there will be bumps, occasional disagreements, and challenges along the way. I am saying that we are happy, content, secure and loving it as we travel the adventure of life together. You can too.
Here are my 6 keys to help you CREATE a happy relationship:
Successful relationships are founded on commitment. This means you are in it for life, no matter what. An attitude of commitment creates safety, trust, and security in the relationship. Constantly remind yourself (and your partner) that you are a lifetime partner. Feel your commitment, speak your commitment, act with commitment and fidelity. Why is this so important? The simple thought of questioning whether you are still “compatible” or still “in love” is damaging to the relationship and your happiness therein. Be loyal and true to your partner, at all times, in all situations, for life. This is the #1 key to happiness in your relationship.
Regularly make time to be together. In human relationships, love = time. Set up a “date night” once a week. Have fun together, relax together, laugh together. One successful couple that I know has the goal to “have an adventure together every day.” And, they do it. Another loves to plan vacations. Some prefer to go out to dinner. It doesn’t matter so much what you do. What matters is that you enjoy doing it together. Another part of renewal is to remember the good times you’ve had together. Talk about the good memories, bring the joy of those past events into the present. In short, renew means to regularly bring joy into your marriage today. It’s the #2 key to a happy relationship
Successful couples build each other up rather than tear down. They are each other’s biggest cheerleader. They look for the best in one another and turn a blind eye to the weaknesses that we all have. Expressions of contempt, eye-rolling, nagging or complaining have no place in a happy relationship. That’s not to say that successful couples don’t communicate and share their feelings, they do. They do it in a way that’s safe and constructive. Happy couples give each other the benefit of the doubt. They assume the best, rather than the worst. To elevate your spouse means making a conscious decision to compliment, respect, forgive, support, and admire your partner. It’s the #3 key to a happy relationship.
Simply put, happy couples adore one another. This brings up the question, what if you don’t really feel like you adore the other person right now. Is love a feeling? Is it a decision? Or is it an action? The answer is: all of the above. Romantic love starts as a feeling, becomes a decision, and is expressed through action. Early on in the relationship, you feel the emotion of attraction which triggers romantic actions (such as bringing flowers, etc.). These emotions are largely triggered by hormones, which are valuable because they foster the actions which build into a true relationship. After a while, the hormonally-induced feelings diminish. Hopefully, by then, we’ve learned to act in a way that fosters the deeper emotion of love. At this point, love is a decision. You decide to act in a loving way, and your emotions follow your actions. Eventually, the relationship blossoms and matures into one of true love, where you would do anything for your partner.
Some people never mature beyond hormone-induced emotions to make the decision to love one another. They are constantly flitting from one person to another in a desperate attempt to recapture those care-free emotions of the past. It’s a futile search which ends in loneliness and leaves many shattered lives in its wake. I’ve heard a spouse say “I just don’t love you anymore.” What they’re really saying is, “the hormonally-induced love is gone and I’m too lazy to mature to the next level where I actually have to do something to keep love alive.”
To adore means to serve, to look for things that you can do to make your partner happy, and then do them. It means to give of yourself freely, without thought of recompense. Do some sleuthing to find out something that would truly mean the world to your partner. Then quietly do it. Learn to love the things your partner loves. The truth is that selfishness, not incompatibility, is the cause of most divorces. Make it your goal to contribute as much as possible toward fulfilling every one of your partners needs. Adore your partner, it’s the #4 key to a happy relationship.
Happy couples are team players. Just like a sports team, where each player does his or her best to contribute to the goal of winning the game, these couples have a vision of the kind of family relationship they want to build and they work together to create it. Imagine a second baseman in the game of baseball who refuses to catch a fly ball because “it’s the shortstop’s job.” No! Team players work together for the good of the team. Likewise, happy couples rally to each other’s aid whenever possible. They work together as equal partners, each doing his or her part, chipping in to help the other as needed. It is not a 50/50 arrangement. Rather, each is willing to give 100%. They are ardent defenders of the home team. They’ll do anything to avoid letting the team down.
Working together as a team creates synergy. Two horses, pulling together, can pull many times more than each could pull separately. Likewise, a couple working together as a team, drawing on the strengths of each, can accomplish what neither could do separately. When you are on a team, you have the courage to do more things, you feel better about yourself, and you love working together. Be a team, it’s the #5 key to a happy relationship.
Express yourselves. Successful couples have learned how to share their thoughts, dreams, and feelings in a way that is respectful and considerate to their partner. Why is it that some people can be civil to perfect strangers, but not to a partner? Happy couples effectively communicate with one another. They talk openly about feelings and issues, always in the kindest possible way, then listen carefully to their partner. You have two ears and one mouth. That is a subliminal message to you that you should listen twice as much as you talk. I’ve found that it’s critical to look one another in the eye when communicating. This keeps the discussion intimate and civil.
Shad Helmstetter wrote a best-selling book titled, “What to Say When You Talk To Yourself.” In it, he tells us to quit beating ourselves up all the time and, instead, give ourselves positive messages that will build up our own self worth. This same message holds true when we communicate with our partners. Drop the negative talk and communicate in a way that builds. Contrary to popular notions, not every thought or emotion should be expressed. Love means knowing something hurtful and cruel and leaving it unsaid. It also means knowing something kind and complimentary and saying it. If there are issues, they should be discussed openly, frankly, and considerately, always ending in mutual understanding and respect (even if you agree to disagree for the moment.) Happy couples center most of their conversations around topics about which they are in agreement. Their conversations are upbeat, considerate, and encouraging to one another. Express yourself with kindness, it’s the #6 key to a happy relationship.
Success Tip: These six keys can help you CREATE a happy relationship. They are simple, but not always easy. The fact is, happy relationships take some work. But they’re also worth every bit of effort. Obviously, it’s best when both partners work on these things together. But, that’s not always the way it is, especially if your relationship has been damaged. Start doing these things yourself and you’ll often see amazing changes in your partner as well. Follow these ideas, and I guarantee your marriage relationship will improve and prosper.