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Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

We've been married for 40 years. We've had more than our share of troubles and difficulties - health, financial, family, strife, etc. If you ask me or my wife we will both agree that we've had a very successful marriage. It has not always been fun. There have been fights, fun, times of building and times of seeming destruction. But success is the ability to overcome the difficulties.

I've been a therapist for about 30 years. So I have a bit of an advantage in that I've learned from books and seminars about what makes for a successful relationship. I also have the advantage of having a teacher who is a great natural in working on successful relationships - my wife. So with decades of academic and practical experience, I would like to share some of the things that I've learned.

These seven habits are all essentials, but every couple will need to cultivate them differently. Some people need more of one ingredient and others need emphasis on another ingredient. But they are all important.

Focus on the Positive

One of the very most important factors in successful relationships is that there is a preponderance of positive over negative. This is true in every relationship. If you want a business relationship to be successful you need about three positive interactions for each criticism or negative interaction. In personal and intimate relationships you need five to one. If you see something your partner did right make sure to mention it. If she looks good, say so. If he exhibits competence, compliment.

Practice Forgiveness

Once you get into a positivity habit this can be easier. On the other hand, there are quite a few studies that suggest that daily forgiveness can cause a more positive outlook. When you forgive your partner you are telling him or her that you believe that he or she didn't mean to harm you because there is love between you. That is an extremely powerful message. Since we can all use more love and love grows when it is given, the message that "I know you want the best for me because you love me" works wonders. It also enhances trust.

Make a Habit of the “Unnecessary” Talk of Love

The most important type of communication in a successful relationship is the words that tell things that you already know.

There are two basic types of communications. The first informs and gives us new knowledge. The second is emotional. It tells us things we know or should know without being said. A man walks into the house with a real sour face. He says, "I had a bad day." Now you did not need those words to know that, but it is important that it be said. It opens up more and better communication.

This is even more important with positive communications. Every day you should say, "I love you" and "Have a good day." It does not need to be said in that your partner knows that you want the best, but it reinforces the emotions. At the end of the day say, "Good night" regardless of how the day went. Even if there are bad feelings in the air, you say, "This relationship is more important than this stupid fight."

Another aspect of the “talk of love” is the daily check-up. During the course of the day get in touch with your partner and ask how she or he is doing. This does not have to be a long conversation. In fact, many people don’t have time for long conversations in the middle of the workday. But it serves two purposes. First, it shows interest which means: you are important and I am thinking about you. Second, it gives you a “heads up” about how your partner’s day is going. Will there be something to process when you get together in the evening?

Be Proud to Be with Your Partner

When you are in public act like the coupleship is the real focus, even when you are focused on the other things. Walk side by side or hand in hand. You see the beauty in your partner that nobody else sees and you can flaunt the fact that yours is the best relationship. It is not helpful to walk together and not be together. If she is four feet ahead, he just might notice another two legs just ahead.

Use Hugs and Kisses to Capitalize on “Body Memory”

Our bodies retain an aura of emotional touches, either good or bad. We need to reinforce the good feelings by giving a hug when returning from work or going out. A “real” kiss can last for a few hours after it can be observed. That feeling can not only be a reminder of the success of the relationship, but it might also strengthen your partner and make some of the trials and tribulations of the “real” world less noxious.

Cultivate Both Common and Separate Interests

Contrary to popular belief, it is not only the things you do in common that enhance your relationship, it is also the things you enjoy apart.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very important that you cultivate common interests. You need to spend enjoyable time together. It can be anything from movies, to sports, to political debate, as long as it is something that you enjoy. It should not be only your interests in the kids, since they will eventually grow up and you can be left without a common interest. If it is something that cannot be done on a regular basis, try to figure out how to keep the interest alive when you are not involved. For instance, if your interest is foreign travel, and you can do it only once a year, use the other time to dream and plan and discuss.

But separate fun is also important. If your husband wants to roller skate every Sunday, let him and be interested in his experience. If your wife wants to host a book club encourage her and listen to her reports of how it went each time.

Go to Bed at the Same Time

This seems to be a disappearing art. But going to bed together is something that only couples do, so do it as much as possible. The problem is when one of you has a lot to do and sleeping doesn’t fit the agenda. Is there any reason why you can’t get up a bit later and finish your work? Or get up an hour earlier in the morning? Falling asleep skin to skin is incredibly bonding and the cement is strong and sweet.

If both of you practice these seven habits I will guarantee that the relationship will be successful, regardless of the difficulties that life might throw your way.

About the author Ari Hahn:
I am a professional helper since 1976 and an LCSW since 1991. I have specialized in survivors of trauma. Presently I also have an on-line therapy and coaching practice where I also specialize in helping families and loved ones of ex-abused people. I also am a professor at TCI College in NYC.
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Page last updated 11/10/2018

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