We all see those token “happy couples” around town occasionally; holding hands, kissing, and looking as though their relationship is engulfed in nothing but pure blissful love and enduring happiness. And if you are anything like me, you smile at them as you walk by – silently cursing their excessive PDA out of jealousy – and then ponder their relationship stage. Surely, they must be newlyweds and have yet to fall from the high that a fresh love brings. Or, could it be that they have a happiness secret?
Well according to research, happy long-lasting couples do have a few secret weapons.
1. Repair attempts
Repair attempts – coined by Dr. J Gottman – are any statements or actions that prevent negativity from escalating out of control. For example, a couple begins to bicker about the dirty dishes that have been left in the sink for days. As the argument starts to heat up, fingers are pointed and a fight begins to ensue regarding the importance of sharing chores. However, just as the decibel level begins to reach the neighbour’s ears, the husband turns to his wife, pauses…. and then sticks out his tongue. This results in joint laughter, and before long the tension between them slowly begins to defuse. When the strength of the couple’s friendship is strong, their ability to send and receive these repair attempts becomes second nature, and is often done unwittingly. Research has shown that these words/actions – silly or otherwise – is one of the primary factors in whether a couple’s relationship will flourish (“happy couple syndrome”) or flounder.
2. “If Only List”
Often times our vision gets clouded with “if onlies”; if only my partner was richer, neater, sexier, didn’t watch sports, liked my mother, was more patient etc, then all our problems would vanish. The problem is, the longer this list gets, the more difficult it will be to overcome conflicts. By continuing to strive towards altering your partner, you are essentially refusing to accept their flaws. Conflict resolution is not about one person changing; it’s about negotiating. “Happy couples” have learned to recognize the harm in these “if only” lists, and turn away from them. The key to this is to focus on what you can do to improve your relationship, not what your partner should be doing, and working within that framework to discover where comprises can be reached.
3. Sex is supposed to be fun
Our view of romance is often skewed by Hollywood’s rendition of sex and love. It seems like unless we are professing a poetic undying desire for eternal monogamy through death-laden hardship (while having passionate orgasm-packed sex), then our romantic gestures have a lacklustre feel, with a side of unoriginality. The truth however, is that happy couples most often view their sex lives as fun and entertaining, instead of serious and passion packed. The key it seems, is to take goals out of sex (such as achieving orgasm, lasting longer, being extremely “adept” in your abilities etc), and focus more on the playfulness and bonding that it can produce. Little games such as naked hide and seek, can add more vitality to your sex life than a dozen roses and a handful of little blue pills.
So the next time you see one of those love-stricken couples – so engulfed by each other that they fail to notice your jealous death glares – remind yourself that they might just deserve this state of bliss. After all, naked twister tournaments may be one piece of the puzzle, but it often takes a lot of introspection and countless repair attempts for the two of you to get to that “happy couple” place.
Dr. Teesha Morgan is a sex therapist based in Vancouver, BC.