Considering the number of articles and blogs written about marriage, love, and lasting relationships, one thing is clear: People crave answers, direction, and help. The couples I see everyday ask the same questions: How can we get through this? Is it possible to salvage what we once had? How can we make sure we don’t lose it again?
Although there’s not one magical answer (if only!), couples who do have successful relationships tend to share a few important qualities. If you can nurture these aspects with your partner, you’ll have a strong foundation for a long and happy union.
1.) Try to Honestly Make Up. What happens after (or even during) a fight? Do you tend to dig in your heels until you “win,” or do you try to find a way to de-escalate the tension so you can get on the other side of it? If it’s the latter, good for you! Relationship expert John Gottman calls these efforts “repair attempts.” Not only are they crucial for any successful relationship, they’re also pretty simple, too: They might be a question or statement like “May I take that back?” or “Let me try again” or “I’m sorry I spoke so harshly.” Or an attempt can be a request, such as “Please be more gentle with me.”
By taking a second to step outside of the fight and connect in a real way, you instantly send a message that you truly care about the other person’s feelings. You aren’t just in the conversation waiting for your turn to reply. This act speaks volumes. Your ability to listen and respect your partner’s position, even if its different from yours, will help heal the rift.
2.) Laugh, Laugh, Laugh. When relationships first begin, there’s a lot of fun, a lot of laughter, and a wonderful lightness as you get to know one another. As relationships deepen and the realities of life creep back in, much of that levity can get replaced with a resolutely non-fun level of seriousness. It’s not usually a conscious thing—it just sort of happens. But guess what? That’s almost a good thing because it means you can do something about it. By resolving to make time to enjoy each other, relax, and, yes, literally play, you’ll always have humor and laughter to fall back on. After all, if you’re still able to laugh at each other—and yourself—there’s almost no problem you can’t solve together.
3.) Be Curious. It’s easy to be curious about each other when you first meet. You can ask each other questions for hours and never once feel bored. But as time passes, try to keep those questions coming—even if you know your spouse almost as well as you know yourself. Happy couples are genuinely interested in each other’s lives both as individuals and as a unit. Sure, being curious means asking your partner about her day and what she thought of that movie you just watched, but it also means asking the bigger questions now and then, too: How have things changed over the years? Do you want your—or our—life to be different? How can we continue to grow as a couple? What dream do you still hope to achieve? By keeping this particular door of communication open, you’re able to maintain another amazing feeling of early love: surprise.
4.) Be Friends First. According to Gottman, friendship is at the core of any strong marriage. This deep level of intimacy—where you know the other person is always there for you—is directly related to your ability to repair after a fight. When you don’t continue to nurture this part of your relationship, a distance can develop in the marriage. And, sometimes, people try to recapture that feeling of closeness with someone else. Thriving friendships are often based on seemingly tiny things—asking those daily questions, listening closely, a good, long hug after a tough day. The biggest challenge: Simply remembering to do them.
What do you do in your relationship to keep the passion and love alive? What will you do differently in your next one?