Have you ever felt like you were walking on eggshells around your partner? Like no matter what you say, it is taken as a criticism and erupts in defensiveness or walking away? Stephanie Oliver, M.A., UKCP Family and Systemic Therapist, shares why this feeling is so common in relationships and what you and your partner can do to heal your relationship.
What Happy Couples Know
Great Relationships Don’t Just Happen
WHAT HAPPY COUPLES KNOW: Wonderful, healthy and fun relationships can seem magical. They can certainly feel that way! But the truth is that awesome relationships don’t happen “magically.” Not at all. Long-term couples who love their relationships are simply reaping the rewards of the intentional effort they’ve put in to their partnerships.
Sounds easy, right?
In theory, it is. But here’s the issue: No one teaches you how to have a fantastic relationship. So even though many people would love to have a stronger, more satisfying connection with their partner and would be very happy to do the working of making their good relationship great… they literally do not know what, exactly, to do differently.
The intention is there, but the knowledge is not.
The Disempowering Myth: “Magical Love”
Part of this lack of awareness is due to the myths surrounding love and relationships in our culture. In the movies or on our shows, people just fall in love and then they’re happy… or they’re not. We don’t get to see how the sausage is actually made, for the good or for the bad. My personal theory is that it’s because it would make for an extremely boring viewing experience: relationships are built (or destroyed) by the habitual micro-moments and interactions couples engage in day in and day out.
We also have few role models for positive relationships. Even our best friends and close family can have things going on behind closed doors that you’ll never know. And too often happy couples or struggling couples appear to be the passive byproduct of “compatibility” rather than intention.
For all these reasons, relationships seem like magical things that “just happen.” They’re either good, or they’re not, and no one has that much control over the outcome either way.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Relationships are always in flux, and shifting in response to what we’re doing or not doing. If we’re nourishing them or neglecting them, we’re in the process of making them be what they are.
The myth of “magical love” is therefore incredibly disempowering, because it does nothing to honor the reality: You have an enormous amount of power to determine the future of your relationship. You get to decide if it’s healthy and enduring, or frustrating and short.
But in order to take full command of you power… you have to know what to do. (Or sometimes, what NOT to do).
What Happy Couples Know: Good Relationships Are Grown
Authentically happy people have learned, over the years, what they need to do to have a happy, healthy relationship. Sometimes they acquired relationship skills through their families. Sometimes they went to couples therapy to learn, or read books, or went to marriage retreats, or they listened to relationship podcasts. But they all did something to learn what to do, and then they started doing the stuff that works on purpose. Routinely.
If you followed people in happy relationships around for a day or three, you’d notice that in the small micro-moments of daily life — saying hello or goodbye, serving food, making low-stakes conversation, watching TV, floating ideas for plans, or even getting into bed — they’re doing things, very intentionally, for the benefit of their relationship.
It’s all small stuff, but it adds up. And, while it looks easy, it all requires a fairly high degree of:
All these skills are running silently under the surface in order for people to behave in such a way that elicits warmth, connection and teamwork rather than hostility and disengagement. It looks easy and effortless, but it’s not, really. Also, they’re not doing it because they love their partners more than you love yours, or because their partners are somehow gratifying to be nice to.
I can assure you, people who are doing all these great, pro-relationship things are partnered to people who are just as flawed and annoying as your partner is. (And they themselves are just as flawed and annoying as the rest of us.) They’re just choosing to handle themselves in a way that benefits their relationships. You can do this too.
What Happy Couples Know: Go First
As an experienced online marriage counselor I am aware that one of the biggest obstacles to having a great relationship (and something that routinely occurs in unhappy relationships) is the core belief that sounds something like, “But why should I try harder than my partner is trying?” Listening to that creates a standoff, and a race to the bottom.
One thing that happy couples know is that you have to go first, and decide to be your very best self in this relationship. Because happy couples also know something extremely neat about relationships. Relationships have a predictable, powerful and “magical” mechanism built in, similar to other natural forces that have jaw-droppingly enormous impact when applied consistently over time (the trickle of water through the grand canyon, compound interest over decades, etc). Here it is: what you put into relationships changes the response you get.
It is disempowering to believe that your partner is the one who’s impossible, incapable of changing, is a terrible communicator — basically, “the problem.” Because then you’re totally stuck. You either have to accept what feels unacceptable, or pull the rip-cord and bail. What a bind!
However, by choosing the empowering middle path and using the magical mechanics of relationships intentionally, YOU have the option to decide to be your very best self in this relationship, use all the relationship strategies that happy couples know… and then notice the impact this has on the results you get. The outcome may surprise you!
What Happy Couples Know: Relationship Skills Can Be Learned
Even more exciting is this: The “what to do to have a great relationship” part has been figured out. It is known. There is research, books, relationship classes, evidence-based marriage counseling approaches, and even documentary films that have laid it all out for you.
One such award-winning documentary film is called “The Truth About Marriage,” from director Roger Nygard. (Watch The Truth About Marriage on Amazon Prime, or pretty much anywhere else you stream). Roger spent over seven years sitting down with the thought leaders in the fields of marriage counseling and couples therapy, like relationship researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman, Dr. Bill Dougherty, and many more to get the straight talk about:
- What makes relationships good
- What makes relationships bad
- What happy couples do on purpose
- How you can apply these same skills and strategies to your relationship
Through his research, Roger has gained enormous insight into the nature of love, as well as some extremely simple but powerful takeaways that anyone can use to immediately nourish and nurture their relationship. Now, he’s sharing them with us (me and you!) on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. We had the chance to talk about all kinds of things, and he gave me the behind-the-scenes inside scoop on the latest research, the most surprising things he learned, what happy couples know, and what YOU need to know so you, too, can have a magical (seeming!) relationship.
PS: If you watch Roger’s film, don’t forget to leave a review! To learn more about Roger and his other documentaries, visit his website: http://rogernygard.com/
PSS: Another relationship-building resource mentioned in this episode is our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” relationship quiz. Here’s the link if you’d like to take it, and / or share it with your partner. I hope it sparks positive, productive conversations that helps your relationship grow.
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What Happy Couples Know
Music Credits: Danii Roundtree, “Magic”
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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