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Happy couples: what is their secret?

Apr 29,2018 - Last updated at Apr 29,2018

Photo courtesy of Family Flavours magazine

By Mariam Hakim

Relationships and Couples Therapist


How happy and satisfied are you in your relationship? Thanks to studies by marriage expert John Gottman, we can now identify a few habits shared by those marriages that thrive. 


Happy couples recognise and respond to each other’s bids for attention


Little things count in relationships. On a daily basis, people make “bids” for their partner’s attention, affection and support, such as asking questions, sharing an idea or a thought, or smiling and touching each other. These things may seem unimportant or trivial, but they are attempts made by our partner to connect intimately and emotionally. If these bids are habitually ignored or overlooked, partners will eventually stop making them, which contributes to emotional loneliness and distance in the relationship.

- Be attentive to your partner’s bids for connection

- Apologise or make up when you miss them; we often miss them not because of malice but because of our preoccupation with other things

-  Try to be emotionally present and engaged when with your partner instead of ignoring him or taking him for granted


Happy couples prioritise intimacy and sex


We are all emotional and physical beings that need love, attention and affection. Enhancing intimacy with our partner needs to be intentional and prioritised, even when time is a constraint. 

-  Have rituals of connection, such as hugging or kissing when leaving in the morning and reuniting for lunch or at the end of the day. Non-sexual touch releases the chemical oxytocin which makes you feel close to someone. Non-sexual touch also has the ability to spark sexual desire

-  Each person has different needs when it comes to emotional and physical intimacy. Talk about what makes you feel close and what satisfies you physically. Even if your needs differ, by talking about them, you are more likely to make small changes to accommodate each other’s preferences

-      Remember words of appreciation and kindness enhance intimacy, while disrespect and meanness drives your partner away both physically and emotionally


Happy couples show interest in each other’s worlds by asking questions


Intimate couples are familiar with each other’s world, both the external and internal world; they know who their partner’s enemies and friends are as well as their partner’s dreams, fears and aspirations. This is the basis of a good friendship, which in turn is the basis for maintaining passion and keeping love alive.

- Check in with your partner on a daily basis; share your plans and how the day went

- Have weekly date nights where you can talk about deeper issues

- Ask your partner open-ended questions instead of questions that are answered with a simple yes or no

-  Make eye contact and listen attentively; show that you are interested in what your partner has to say

-     Do not assume that you already know everything about your partner; each person grows and changes on a daily basis 


Happy couples support each other’s growth and learning of new things


Autonomy is necessary for personal growth. We often need time alone to recharge. This can benefit our relationships, as we come back feeling more energised, but too much time or space apart can be destructive to a relationship. We need to strike a healthy balance and neither become too co-dependent, nor too distant. This healthy balance will form a healthy base for partners to grow and support each other in fulfilling each partner’s personal dreams.

-  Remember that your partner cannot fulfil all your needs, so do reach out to family and friends to fulfil some of them

-  Maintain supportive circles of friends that can support you and celebrate your bond. Partners that tend to be too dependent on each other or too distant often form less outside common friendships that can be of great support and encouragement in helping each other grow both individually and as a couple


Happy couples see problems as joint problems to be solved


- Understand that conflict and misunderstandings are inevitable in all relationships and an integral part of any healthy relationship

- Tackle problems from a “WE” stance; instead of blaming each other and accusing your partner to be the cause of the problem, try to understand each other’s perspective and accept responsibility for your part in creating the problem, even if it is just a small part

-   Approach the problem with the aim of working together to solve it instead of just venting and letting out anger and frustration



Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours

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