Staying a happy couple in the midst of all the poop, carpooling, whining, drama, and parenting craziness is perhaps the absolute hardest thing a couple will have to endure. So, how does a couple stay happy and connected through all the hardships of parenthood?
As a psychotherapist, I can tell you the number one reason I see couples is because they say they’ve “fallen out of love.” But, when I investigate further, what they’re really telling me is that they forgot to keep working at their relationship with each other as soon as the kids came along.
The seven-year itch is real, and not because couples become irrational, mid-life-crisis human beings, but because they have an “Oh, crap” moment smack dab in the middle of some of the hardest times they’ll face as a couple. They feel more alone than they’ve ever felt, and they don’t know how to reconnect.
6 Things Happy Couples Do
John Gottman is the foremost couple’s researcher in the world, with over 40 years of experience identifying what makes a couple happy (and unhappy). This list is worth paying really close attention to.
- Know Each Other’s Love Maps. Happy couples have a good understanding of what makes their partner happy, what they did over the weekend, what their goals are, who their childhood best friends are, what their favorite foods are, and what grates on their ever-loving last nerve.
- Feel Fondness and Admiration. Couples who are happy actually think pretty fondly of their partner, and they admire what they do and who they are. And, they tell them. It’s one thing to feel this about your partner, it’s another thing when you hear it from your one-and-only.
- Turn Toward (Instead of Away). Partners who take advice from each other and continually turn toward each other in times of hardship are the most satisfied. This means, when you get into hot water, you feel comfortable not only turning toward your partner during the difficult time but you also actually trust what they’re telling you enough to give it some thought and even take action on it.
- Manage Conflict. Every couple argues, but how you manage the conflict is really the key here. Think again if you think walking away is the best way to handle disagreements. It isn’t. That only breeds feelings of resentment over time because ultimately you don’t feel heard. No, what makes conflict more manageable is that you stay away from some real relationship killers in the midst of the argument (defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling, and criticism). Plus, tune into the emotional message your partner is trying to convey in the midst of an argument. As I tell my couples in the counseling room, conflict is just a protest of emotional needs not being met. During an argument it may seem like your partner is just being a real jerk, but what they’re really doing is protesting unmet emotional needs. Staying away from those four things I listed above are all well and good, but if your partner doesn’t feel like you’re really heard them, that argument won’t stop, even if they’ve gone silent.
- Rituals and Goals. Happy couples have rituals that bind them (a kiss before you leave the house, matching PJs at Christmas, family night once a week, weekly date night, etc.). Whether it’s small or large, couples who have small things that they do regularly feel happier because they can depend on the small rituals to help them feel important.
- Dream Together. Happy couples dream together. Big dreams, small dreams, and in-between dreams, couples who plan their lives together are happier. Whether you’re planning out the house of your dreams, dreaming of a vacation together, planning out an intricate garden in your yard, or dreaming of what you’ll be like as grandparents, when you both have your mind moving in the same direction, and with the same goals of life in mind, it feels happy, and couples are ultimately healthier.
Marriage Is Work
Marriage is harder when you lose sight of each other. And yes, marriage is work. It’s time to tune into marriage just as much as you tune into the other facets of your life, including kids, and think about the key things that bind you as a couple.