Long lasting relationships, and perhaps more importantly, happy long lasting relationships tend to have a few common characteristics. But don’t be fooled, a lot of hard work goes into a good relationship. Not all healthy habits come easily, but do you know what healthy relationship habits are? They might not be as clear as you’d expect – but we’ll get to those.
As careers change, children enter the picture, and everyday life becomes more of a distraction – it takes work to make sure your relationship doesn’t fall by the wayside.
Experts, including relationship counselors and researchers focused on matters of the families, have come to some fascinating conclusions after pulling data from their studies, and their real-life experiences. Yes, it is about communication and intimacy, but it’s about so much else.
What Do Happy Relationships Have in Common?
So what are the habits of couples still madly in love, even after decades of marriage? Very likely, you can name some of the most common ones, including a focus on open-communication, robust sex life, and statements of gratitude. But there is more to a happy relationship than just a little more sex and a few more thank you’s.
Happy and healthy long term relationships are as unique as the individuals within them. Yet, if the research on long-lasting relationships is anything to go by, they typically follow a very similar format which includes:
- Open and meaningful communication
- A fundamental positive approach to the relationship
- Showing love and gratitude in multiple ways
- Acceptance of change
Let’s expand on these points further, as there is a lot more to unpack. As you explore the following habits of madly in love couples, consider how you can adopt them into your own relationship. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking love is always spontaneous and off-the-cuff; sometimes practice makes perfect. The harder you work towards these suggestions, the stronger the habit, and the happier the relationship.
1. Having a Meaningful Conversation
One of the most critical aspects of a healthy and happy relationship is the ability to have meaningful conversations, even decades on. It’s common for couples to forget about light-hearted conversations, filled with laughter. Life tends to get in the way, especially if there are children involved, and work to do.
Bills, after-school pickups, and other logistics often begin to fill up the conversation. Saving space for light-hearted, or deeply meaningful discussion is essential. It helps ensure the experience doesn’t devolve into a business transaction, but instead stimulates romance and maintains an underlying basic interest in the other person.
Are you wondering to start working on a meaningful conversation? Put the phones away over dinner, and make some boring-topics off limits. That means you can’t talk about who is taking the garbage out tomorrow, the upcoming mortgage payment or any other chores lingering on the to-do list. Try to talk about enjoyable experiences from the day before, exciting headlines, or plans for a family upcoming vacation.
2. A Healthy Relationship with In-Laws and Extended Family
When you first fall madly in love with your spouse, you might not initially think about the rest of their family. After all, you are in a relationship with one person, not his or her extended family. But, research shows that negative relations with a troublesome in-law can have a long-lasting impact on the relationship as a whole.
As you get to know your new partner, ask yourself about their relationship with their family. More importantly, ask yourself if you can be close to this new family as well. According to the authors of The Influence of In‐Laws on Change in Marital Success, “conflicts in extended family relations will erode marital stability, satisfaction, and commitment over time.” It’s not always possible, of course, but for the sake of a happy relationship with your spouse, you might want to try for a happy relationship with the inlaws. 
3. Keep the Long Term Relationship in Mind
Another study looking at healthy relationships found that when couples approached arguments while keeping the bigger picture in mind, they were able to resolve the conflict much more quickly. Which means, if you tend to have heated debates about money and finances with your spouse, you’ll want to approach it from the perspective of one year later. If you were to look back on this fight after 12 months, how would you approach it?
The researchers behind the paper, The Value of Prospective Reasoning for Close Relationships,” found that relationships benefited from this perceived time-delay. They concluded, “Our study demonstrates that adopting a future-oriented perspective in the context of a relationship conflict — reflecting on how one might feel a year from now — may be a valuable coping tool for one’s psychological happiness and relationship well-being.”
Fights between spouses are typically much more heated than between friends, or coworkers. Emotions fire up, and the present argument feels like the end of the world. But, imagine looking back on the situation from the future. Is it really as serious as your currently over-heated feelings suggest? 
4. Look on the Bright Side of Things
Instead of interpreting every indiscretion your partner makes negatively, try to look at it from a positive light. This might mean looking at their inability to pick up socks from the bedroom floor with a little less aggravation. Yes, you could get increasingly frustrated at this disturbing pattern, or you could look at it as a sign of their forgetfulness, and not of their lack of love.
Brian Ogolsky, a professor of human development and family relationships, even suggested applying this positive outlook to significant issues, like infidelity. He advises that if you can’t see past a mistake, there is little hope for the relationship over the long term. Although not all indiscretions and infidelities deserve a positive spin, a hiccup now and then can use a bit of lightness – it may not be the end of the world even if it feels that way in the moment. 
5. Keep Playing on the Same Team
Whatever happens, never forget that you are playing on the same team. Couples who stay madly in love over the years may have their differences, but at the end of the day, they remember they have shared goals and ambitions.
You should always do your best to see how your individual goals fit into the relationship goals. Don’t forget the big picture, even if you want to push for your own ideas sometimes. Couples who play together, and not play against each other, are happier and more deeply in love compared to those who constantly oppose each other.
If you are continually thinking of arguments as something you have to win, or you subconsciously act like your partner is your adversary – it’s not hard to see why there may be long term challenges.
A relationship is primarily a longterm agreement with someone else. You agree to love each other, to work together towards shared goals, and support each other through the rough times. Remembering that this is a team sport, and not an individual competition can make this agreement stronger.
6. Don’t Forget About Gratitude
There are two sides of gratitude within a relationship. On the one hand, you need to give it. On the other, you need to receive it. Couples who show appreciation for each other are overall happier together. For many people receiving gratitude is a vital sign of love. Saying thank you, writing a short note now and again, or just taking over dinner can really demonstrate to your spouse how much you appreciate them.
But, gratitude is a two-way street. Sometimes its harder to receive it than to give it. People aren’t taught how to accept love, and sometimes they find it uncomfortable. Or they can ignore it altogether, which can trigger all sorts of negative emotions from the giver.
Imagine putting a lot of thought into a gift, only to have your partner reject it? Rejected gratitude can feel a little like that, but sometimes the emotions are harder to unpack. If gratitude is a challenge in your relationship, talk about it. Ask your spouse how you can show them your thanks for everything they do. Try saying one thing every day to your spouse to show your appreciation.
7. Stoke the Fire
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see this habit on the list. Keeping the spark alive is crucial to relationships filled with joy, love, and passion. The passion is what initially brought you together, as you fell madly in love. But this romantic period, filled with late nights, hot dates, and intense intimacy doesn’t last forever. Over the years, it slowly fades into a comfortable, but a less intensely romantic relationship.
While there is nothing wrong with the second phase of romance (in fact, this second phase is to be expected) a little bit of passion helps strengthen a connection between two people. Just like with mundane daily conversations about chores and bills, a relationship only based around logistics quickly becomes tedious.
Stoke the fire by making sure you dedicate time to intimacy. A little public display of affection never hurt anyone and shows the other person you truly care. There are a million and one ways to keep the flame alive, but some common suggestions include: scheduling a date night, plan for a lazy morning in bed, and never stop flirting with your spouse.
8. Accepting Change Along the Way
The person you fell in love with in high school, will hopefully not stay in high school mode for the rest of their life. It’s crucial to accept change and growth in a partner, just as you would hope they do the same for you. It’s one of the most common topics Dr. Samantha Rodman sees in her counseling practice working with couples. She says “Many marriages flounder and even end because partners don’t recognize or accept their partner’s own individual need to grow and change.”
If you were single, you would have the freedom to learn, grow, and change in any way you desired. In a relationship, while it’s important to keep the team mentality in mind, you still should feel comfortable growing as a person in meaningful ways. Humans are not static, and given time, they change. Happy couples learn to accept a partner who develops over the years. Maybe they are a very different person from the one you initially fell in love with, but some transformation is good as people mature. 
9. Scheduled Sex
Yes, you read that correctly. One of the hottest tips from relationship experts and sex therapists is to schedule your sexual activity, so you make sure it happens. Healthy and happy relationships almost always have a component of a healthy and happy sex life. Sex may have come easily at the beginning of a relationship – but it usually takes a bit of work as the relationship becomes comfortable.
According to sex therapist, Vanessa Marin, “The truth is that having an active, passionate, and satisfying sex life takes an awful lot of work. It doesn’t just happen magically. It’s rarely spontaneous.” She says you have to prioritize it, which often means scheduling it in advance so that you can plan for it. If you have it on your to-do list, you are much more likely to be in the mood. 
Spontaneous sex gets more challenging as adult responsibilities (and children) take over. Long days at work, early before-school mornings, and a never-ending list of chores and errands. Sex can easily get pushed aside. Do you and your partner a favor, and pencil it into your schedule at a time without any distractions.
10. Never Lose Your Sense of Self
One of the first things to go in a new relationship is the sense of self. It’s easy to get lost as you spend every waking moment in the passionate throes of a new relationship. Over time, the habits, activities, and friends who made you unique can dissolve into something only shared with your partner.
To be happy in a relationship you have to be satisfied with yourself. A key to self-satisfaction is a self-identity. This means having aspirations and passions outside of those you enjoy with your partner. Just like investment advisors always advise not to put all your eggs in one basket, the same holds for relationship counselors.
Of course, you should have some hobbies with your spouse, but also some outside of that relationship, with friends, family, or entirely by yourself. Self-identify beyond the relationship lets you grow as a person in ways you wouldn’t be able to if you only did things with a spouse.
There is no secret formula to a perfect relationship, but there are a few key ingredients. The big takeaways from the relationship experts based on their studies and experience is the focus on working together as a team. A team communicates well, maintains a positive attitude, and practices. If you never practice, it’s going to be hard to win that next big game, and even harder to make it to the playoffs. Practicing the habits of a healthy relationship reinforce them, and make them less work and more of a subconscious habit. This includes everything from sex, to saying thank you, to a little PDA.