“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.” – Dave Meurer
Couples who come for counselling often do so as their very last resort. The pain has grown too big and all they wish for is to manage it better. The idea of ‘positivity’ is processed through cynical minds. They just want to survive. What actually has happened to such couples is their filter of attention has got into the habit of scanning for what is wrong, and the intention is avoiding pain. This is how the survival mindset operates.
Extensive research on happier couples provides us with compelling evidence on why and how to change the filter towards the flourishing mindset: when attention is on what is working well, and intention is on creating more pleasant moments.
We could sum up the most important finding of research on satisfying relationships in the following way: in order to create an enjoyable relationship it is not enough to address the negativity, but it is essential to balance it out with a good dose of positivity. The key is to engage intentionally in those activities enhancing connection, meaning and joy. Happier couples do exactly that. This is their secret for success. It is wise to learn from them, and the recent ABC series on “What Makes Couples Happy” tried to share some of this wisdom with viewers.
Some partners will respond by saying, “but what if I don’t feel like it?!”. There is indeed a lot of frustration when partners need to cope with the demands of raising children and bread winning. They are disappointed with themselves, with each other and with life in general. They may feel lonely and exhausted. They don’t have the same affection and intimate connection they used to have. Unfortunately, if nothing is done at this stage to repair the hard feelings and increase the pleasant feelings, the couple risks arriving at the tipping point from which it is hard to return.
So what do successful couples do to switch to the flourishing mindset?
They go back to basics, to do what builds friendship between two people.
Time – Wise couples allocate time to nourish their connection. Many couples give the usual excuse they don’t have time, but often find time for counselling to rescue the relationship, or for fighting in court. The best interest of children is happier parents, and it could be achieved if they take time to nurture and savour their relationship.
Space – Home is often the place of a ‘battleground’ and it is harder to switch to a different mood. Happier couples go out to spend time alone, or with family and friends. It is easier to nurture a relationship in an environment free from the distractions of children and house chores.
Appreciation and Gratitude – Happier couples share thanks and praise for each other more often. They listen with enthusiasm to stories of success and make sure the other’s efforts are not taken for granted.
Getting Playful – Playfulness is a relationship quality used in large doses during the first months of knowing each other. Playing, teasing and joking brings partners to the origin of their connection, to the times of laughter and spontaneity when they charmed each other with the free spirit of inner child. Injecting humor into a distressing situation will diffuse tension and get partners to lighten up. Playfulness loosens up our defences – making us more vulnerable and naturally closer to each other.
And when friendship is back, couples are more likely to engage in affection and sex which is ultimately the most potent glue of intimate partners. It takes some intentional acts to bring the relationship back to the upward spiral. These acts will deepen the connection and enhance the flourishing mindset, a mindset from which the whole family will benefit.