Six proven strategies to make love (and happiness) last

What are your relationship must-haves? Can you admit when you’re wrong? Are you fully committed? Relationship expert Gay Hendricks on the secret to longevity.

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Massimo Merlin/ Getty Images

Photo, Massimo Merlin/Getty Images.

1. Write down your list of must-haves
Funny thing about relationships: People often enter into them without a clear idea of what they want. And it’s only after the initial fireworks fade that they start making demands on each other. This tactic inevitably leads to disagreements, hurt feelings and unmet expectations. Whether you’re involved in a relationship or not, avoid this pitfall by thinking intentionally about what you need in a partner: Write down three must-haves and three qualities you won’t accept. Ask your partner to do the same. Now share your lists.

2. Focus on the fun
Change the script when it comes to the way you talk (and think) about love. Ditch the “relationships are hard work” metaphor for the more creative, joyful idea that “love is fun.” This simple tweak to your vocabulary will bring a lightheartedness to your home and help you leave work where it belongs — at the office.

3. Commit fully
All too common he-said-she-said bickering often comes from the fact that one or both partners aren’t fully committed to the partnership. Recognize that until you make the decision to be all in, you’re going to keep seeing new faults — and you’re fighting against the health of your relationship. Wave the white flag and look at your partner as an ally with a shared goal of keeping the love alive.

4. Be honest in the moment
It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying “Nothing,” through gritted teeth, when your partner asks what’s wrong. But consider this: If you always hide your feelings, then you’re not in a real relationship, because the real you isn’t present. Starting right now, be open to sharing how you feel, even if it could lead to an uncomfortable conversation. Just remember the idea is to explain your position and create dialogue. Keep the blame and the criticism to a minimum (these are two of the main reasons people leave relationships).

5. Admit when you’re wrong
Smart couples are very good about keeping their agreements with each other. That can include everything from promising you’ll be home in time for dinner to remaining faithful. They’re also good at acknowledging mistakes when they break an agreement — and then moving on. Relationships cannot thrive (or even survive) when people are caught up in past issues.

6. Follow the 5:1 ratio
One study reveals that in happy unions, people report saying five positive or appreciative things for every one negative comment. For divorcing couples it’s only a one-to-one ratio. Keep this in mind when you say anything critical to your mate, and try to balance it out by saying five positive things. Need some inspiration? How about “Dinner was so delicious,” “Thanks for driving me to work” or “You look nice today.”

Chatelaine Expert Gay Hendricks is the founder of the Hendricks Institute in California. A psychologist and relationship expert, he’s the author of many celebrated love manuals including Conscious Loving and Attracting Genuine Love.