Habits Of Healthy Couples

People in successful marriages behave in ways that are worth copying: Here’s what the experts recommend

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
People in successful marriages behave in ways that are worth copying: Here’s what the experts recommend.
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Seeing an elderly couple holding hands in public and seemingly besotted with each other can restore your faith in the happilyeverafter. But what’s the secret to enduring romance? Surely staying in a marriage long enough means conflict: Misunderstandings and personal stuff-ups are inevitable. Yes, but there are strategies that long-term couples practise that we can all copy.

Here’s what three experts say the happiest married couples do to avoid common relationship traps.

They know how to say sorry They also realise that nobody’s perfect, they’re quick to forgive and they don’t hold grudges. Some of us expect our husbands to be totally okay with the worst aspects of our personality, even when we behave appallingly. When that happens it’s important to ’fess up, seek forgiveness and remind yourself that your spouse is not your mum or dad and doesn’t have to tolerate your behaviour. When the ‘sorry’ shoe is on the other foot, forgiveness can heal the damage, even if your husband’s attempts at apology are clumsy or inadequate.

They don’t take each other for granted Happy couples respect and appreciate each other, says Matt Garrett, regional manager at Relationships Australia. “They aren’t afraid to show their mutual admiration, gratitude and support. It also helps that they are unlikely to ever forget a birthday, anniversary or shared celebration.”

They cherish intimacy This is not necessarily about sex. Happy couples enjoy each other’s company, and consider time spent together as sacred. “Seeking out your other half in preference to everything else signifies that your relationship is worth honouring,” adds Matt.

“Intimacy is about finding a way to regularly be alone together, no matter how busy both your schedules may be.”

They know the ground rules We sometimes expect that our needs and expectations are understood without ever having talked about it. This is only likely if you’re both mind-readers, says Philipa Thornton, psychologist and marriage counsellor at Marriage Works.

“Happy couples have a clear understanding around issues like money, jobs, friends, household chores and how they spend time outside their own relationships. They are also willing to renegotiate the ground rules to suit changing circumstances including having kids, retirement and family crises.” They’re not afraid to discuss the big issues.

That doesn’t mean every day has to involve a deep and meaningful conversation, but stewing over something until it becomes a major problem is like finding a stone in your shoe and walking around all day without removing it. The big issues might include infidelity, alcohol and drugs, and relationship dissatisfaction. Happy couples raise topics of concern in a gentle and non-accusatory way, so they don’t end up in a fight.

They don’t fight dirty All couples argue but name-calling, cruelty or showing contempt in public are among the belowthebelt tactics that happy couples avoid. “The spirit of fighting is aimed at achieving a positive outcome for these couples, so they would rather call a temporary halt to a heated or aggressive argument before saying something they may later regret,” notes Philipa.

They don’t enlist allies A relationship is more likely to endure if both parties make it a point to communicate directly with each other, instead of involving family or friends, says Phoebe Hutchison, a relationship counsellor and author of Honeymooners Forever: Twelve Step Marriage Survival Guide.

“Moaning about your beloved to your mum, best friend or even worse, your children, often adds tension, makes matters worse and alienates one spouse,” says Phoebe. “Happy couples understand that love is not a battle and the only person you need on your side in a relationship is your spouse.” They don’t try to change each other.

A happy relationship is where both parties are free to be themselves; they accept each other. You can change a relationship, but you can’t change a human being. Having unrealistic expectations of your husband never works. Happy couples will recognise when problems are down to personal issues around mental health, addiction, control or trust, and they support each other to overcome or seek help for those issues.

They see each other as lovers, not spouses.

Sex is important, and so is trying to ensure that every single interaction is based on respect and love. “According to the law of attraction, what you focus on expands; happy couples focus on the positives in each other rather than finding fault and resorting to criticism or put-downs. Happy couples know that a positive attitude is essential for relationship success,” says Phoebe.