As a therapist, I worked with a lot of people having trouble with their spouses or partners…
Most of them had major problems in their relationships, and if I’m honest, many of those relationships didn’t work out.
But some of them had narrower, more specific issues that we were able to work through successfully. Which means I got to see first-hand what qualities and habits made these couples happy and successful.
Here are 4 habits I observed among genuinely happy couples…
1. Taking Feedback Well
All couples fight and disagree. And all couples criticize each other and point out flaws and faults in the other person.
Which makes perfect sense for the simple reason that…
You can only work through relationship problems if you’re able to identify them.
The difference is that some couples do this well, in a healthy and constructive way. And some do it poorly.
One of the biggest patterns I saw among happy, successful couples is that each person took feedback well.
Now, there are lots of things that go into taking feedback well…
- It helps if the person giving feedback does it in a way that’s clear and compassionate.
- It helps if the person receiving the feedback can avoid reacting defensively.
But the most underappreciated part of taking feedback well is this:
To take feedback well, you have to make consistent changes in your life based on the feedback.
See, a lot of couples are pretty good at giving and receiving feedback in the moment. But then the person receiving the feedback doesn’t do anything about it…
- You ask your spouse to try and be more punctual coming home from work. They hear your request and say they will start being more punctual. But then they continue to be late.
- Your partner asks you to stop being sarcastic during serious conversations. You agree in the moment that you should stop. But then you don’t actually make a plan to change and end up continuing to do it.
Here’s the problem:
If you receive feedback well but don’t take action on it, your partner will lose trust in you.
And when trust deteriorates, so does communication, intimacy, and many other elements that are critical to a happy, well-functioning relationship.
So, if you want to seriously improve your relationship, keep receiving feedback well, but commit to making specific, well-designed plans to follow through on that feedback.
2. Communicating Assertively
Nothing kills a relationship like resentment…
- You resent your partner for not taking your professional ambitions seriously enough, which then leads to conflict and hurt anytime work-related conversations come up.
- Or maybe your spouse resents you for how good you are at taking care of yourself and exercising consistently while they struggle so much.
Resentment in relationships is toxic.
But where does resentment come from? And why does it build up to such a degree that it ruins our relationships?
Well, resentment can come from a lot of places. But here’s the biggest one most people miss:
Resentment is a symptom of not being assertive.
Assertiveness is the ability to ask for what you want and express yourself in a way that’s honest and respectful to you and the other person.
- You’re struggling with self-doubt re: your career.
- And you would like your partners help and advice working through this.
- But you feel embarrassed and ashamed about it. So you don’t ask them for help.
- But you go on expecting them to help you and telling yourself stories about how they should be able to recognize this without you having to say anything.
Because you’re unwilling to express your wants and needs directly, you end up resenting your partner.
Healthy relationships depend on each person being able and willing to express their wants and needs assertively.
So get in the habit of asking for what you want and expressing your opinion early and often.
If low assertiveness has been a long-time struggle for you, here’s my best piece of advice: Start small.
Practice being assertive in very small things (e.g.: what you want to watch on tv at night) before you try to be assertive in very big things (e.g.: wanting to move across the country).
When you commit to developing your assertiveness muscle, not only will your relationship improve, but personally you’ll start feeling a lot less anxious and insecure and a lot more confident.
Learn More: How to Be More Assertive
3. Emotional Vulnerability
There’s a specific version of assertiveness that’s especially important for building a happy, and successful relationship… emotional vulnerability.
Emotional vulnerability means being willing to share how you feel emotionally, especially when it’s hard.
- You find yourself increasingly resentful of your partner’s professional success. Before this resentment grows and you start acting it out and sabotaging the relationship, you’re able to acknowledge that feeling in yourself and then share it with your partner so that the two of you can address it in an open and constructive way.
- Or maybe you feel increasingly sad but can’t understand why. Despite feeling embarrassed by this (perhaps because you consider it a sign of weakness), you’re willing to share that with your spouse.
Of course, emotional vulnerability doesn’t mean you go around sharing every little feeling you have all the time.
It’s about willingness…
When it matters, you’re willing to share difficult feelings with your partner.
There are two really big reasons why emotional vulnerability is essential for a happy relationship:
- The more you’re willing to acknowledge and share difficult emotions, the less afraid of them you’ll be. When you ignore or avoid difficult emotions, you get some temporary relief, but you end up becoming more anxious about them in the future. Overall this makes you emotionally fragile and insecure, which can have a lot of negative consequences not only for you as an individual, but also for the relationship.
- When you share difficult feelings with your partner, they underhand you better—on a deeper and more intimate level. So many relationships end up going stale and losing passion because one or both parties stops sharing how they feel emotionally. This leads to a lack of intimacy and closeness, which then makes the whole relationship feel vapid and distant.
If you want your relationship to thrive, you must be willing to be vulnerable with your emotions.
4. Setting Boundaries
Just like it’s important to be able to communicate your wants and needs assertively—asking for what you want and expressing how you really feel—it’s also critical that you can do the opposite…
Happy relationships depend on the ability to set boundaries and say no.
For example, how well is a relationship going to function if…
- You can’t tell your partner that you’d like them to stop being insensitive around your extended family?
- You can’t tell your spouse that, even though they’re not aware of it, they’re being really impatient with your kids and it’s affecting their relationship?
- You can’t tell your partner that you actually don’t want to move to a new city even though they’re very excited about the possibility?
Here’s the trick with boundaries though…
Boundaries are about you, not them.
Boundaries are about what you’re going to do if your wishes aren’t respected.
Because, ultimately, you can’t control other people. All you have control over is yourself—your own actions and how you respond to your boundaries being respected or not.
Now, the reason boundaries are so hard to set (not to mention enforce!) is that difficult emotions often come up before we even set them…
- You imagine setting a boundary on your husband’s insensitivity at family gatherings, but then you imagine how angry he’ll be, and how anxious you’ll feel if he gets angry, so you decide to “let it go.”
- You imagine setting a boundary on moving your family to a new city, but then you picture how disappointed your partner will be, and imagine how disappointed you’ll feel for them, so you continue to avoid the conversation.
Like with assertiveness, the key to setting good boundaries is to start small and slowly work your way up.
This is true of almost all skills in life by the way…
- Before you can master Beethoven, you have to master Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Before you can run a marathon, you have to run a 5K
So look for small—even tiny—opportunities to practice saying no and setting healthy boundaries. As you succeed in those, you’ll slowly but surely build up both confidence and competence in your ability to set and enforce good boundaries.
The real skill behind healthy boundaries is the ability to manage the difficult emotions that come with them.
Learn More: 4 Rules for Setting Healthy Boundaries
All You Need to Know
Here are four habits of happy and successful couples:
- Taking feedback well
- Communicating assertively
- Emotional vulnerability
- Setting healthy boundaries