6 Ways to Cultivate a Long & Happy Relationship
Updated: Apr 8
As I enter the 10th year of my relationship with my partner and having recently read Gottman (1999)'s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, I have compiled some key take-ways from the book and from my personal experiences on how to cultivate a long-lasting and happy relationship. I hope these will provide some guidance to those who want to improve their relationships!
💡 1. Get to Know Your Partner
How well do you know your partner and how well does your partner know you? Having deep knowledge about each-other is the foundation of any quality relationship.
By frequently discussing how your feel and think about different things, you will get to know each-other more and more over time. The more you understand each-other, the more likely you will weather through the ups and downs of your relationship.
Find some time to get to know your partner every day just a little bit more than the day before. Be curious about how their day went, what is on their minds, what is going well and not as well in their lives.
Exercise: Here are some example questions you can ask each-other:
How was your day?
What went well? What did not go so well?
What are you currently stressed out about?
What are your current goals?
💡 2. Nourish Your Admiration for Each Other
Having a fundamentally positive view about your partner will make you more resilient during difficult times. By constantly reminding yourself of their positive qualities, you will less likely to feel contempt (a killer of relationships!) towards them when conflict arises.
Exercise: List down the top 10 positive qualities you admire about your partner and share it with them. Ask your partner to do the same.
💡 3. Let Your Partner Influence You
Being influenced by each-other is a sign that you are listening and are accepting each-others' ways of living. Ensure you are giving plenty of space to express your opinions and you both have similar power to influence decisions that you make.
💡 4. Keep Learning & Become Better
Many couples complain as time goes by, they run out of things to say to each-other and the relationship gets boring. One way to prevent this from happening is to keep learning new things and just keep improving yourself.
For example, try to learn at least something everyday, such as something you've read on the news, a new podcast you've heard or anything something random you learned to share with your partner. You can also look up new places to go to and seek out new experiences.
Importantly, you need to have new goals so that you keep improving yourself. Update your partner with your goals and invite them to help you in whatever ways they can to reach that goal. For example, you can act as each-others' accountability buddies so that you keep each-other motivated to reach your next goals.
Exercise: Share one thing you've learned today with your partner.
💡 5. Solve Your Problems & Overcome Gridlock
To maintain a healthy and happy relationship, it's important to know how to deal with conflict and solve your problems together. Here are some key tips to solve your solvable problems from the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:
"Keep working on your unresolvable conflicts. Couples who are more demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations."(p.224; Gottman, 1999)
1. Soften your startup. Research has found that discussions tend to end in the same note they began in, so it's important to soften the argument from the very beginning. This means avoiding things like criticism and contempt at the start of the conversation.
Describe the issue without judgment or blame. Just describe what is going on without adding any judgment of your partners' personal qualities. Focus on the problem itself and not your partners' characteristics. For example, instead of calling your partner lazy for not taking out the trash, say: "The trash is full and we agreed that you would take out the trash, but you have not, so I'm upset."
Start with "I" instead of "You". This will ensure you are focusing on what you are feeling, instead of accusing your partner. For example, instead of telling your partner to go take out the trash, say: "I would be very happy if you could take out the trash."
2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts. For example, let them know how you feel, e.g.: "That hurt my feelings.", express the need to clam down: "Can we take a break?", say sorry: "Let's try again." or "I'm sorry. Please forgive me." When your partner attempts to make repairs, simply accept it.
3. Soothe yourself and each other.
Soothe yourself. If you feel you are flooded with emotion and unable to listen or think clearly during an argument, then it is time to take a break. For example, you can meditate, go for a walk or take a nap so that your body physically calms down before you continue the discussion.
Soothe each-other. Being soothed by your partner will condition you to associate them with feelings of being relaxed instead of seeing them as a signal of stress. To understand how to best soothe your partner, ask them: "Is there anything I can do to soothe you?" There are many ways to soothe your partner, for example, simply apologizing for how you made them feel, or giving them a massage are both simple but effective ways.
4. Find compromise. The last step is to reach a compromise. That is, you need to be open to your partner's opinions and accept parts of what they are saying.
Exercise: To help reach a compromise, jot down:
1. Things you cannot give in on.
2. Aspects of the problem you are able to compromise about.
Then, discuss with your partner:
1. What do we agree about?
2. What common goals can we have here?
3. How do we think these goals should be accomplished?
So you may wonder, what about perpetual problems that just seem insurmountable?
For example, a classic gridlock is disagreements on whether to have kids.
First, try the Exercise under the 4. Compromise section above.
Then reflect on:
What are the hidden deeper causes of your views of not wanting to have kids?
Doing this exercise will help you understand the root cause of your differing opinions, so that you can start to respect each-other's perspectives.
Understand that you will not completely resolve the problem, in fact, it may never go away. The goal is to come up with a temporary compromise that honors both of your dreams that will help you continue to discuss the problem in a calm and friendly manner.
"Scheduling formal griping sessions can prevent the spillover of everyday stress into your marriage."(p.188; Gottman, 1999)
Exercise: Schedule a formal meeting with your partner on a regular basis to openly discuss what things are going well and not so well in your relationship. Then help each-other set goals to improve your relationship.
💡6. Create Shared Meaning
Hitting the key areas above will likely increase the likelihood that you will have a happy and stable relationship. Having a shared purpose will further elevate your relationship.
This means sharing similar goals, honoring each-others' dreams and developing a way of living that incorporates both of your dreams.
This also involves aligning your values on your rituals of connection (e.g.: what does it mean to entertain in your homes and celebrate special events), and the meaning of your different roles (role of work in life, importance of family, etc.).
"Acknowledging and respecting each other's deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to saving and enriching your marriage."(p.234; Gottman, 1999)
I have learned SO MUCH from researching this topic and I will for sure be coming back to this article whenever I feel like my relationship needs some improvement! ;)
If you found this useful, be sure to share this article with your partner as well!
By nourishing your relationships using the tips mentioned, I hope your relationships will thrive over time!
Gottman, J. M. (1999). Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
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