8 Things Happy Couples (Almost) Never Do
Here’s what we can learn from people in healthy relationships, according to therapists.
By Kelsey Borresen for HuffPost
Jul 20, 2022, 05:35 PM EDT|Updated Jul 20, 2022
Happy couples who have been together awhile can teach us all a thing or two about how to sustain and nurture a strong, loving connection for years to come.
We asked couples therapists — who have seen the good, the bad and the ugly — what things people in happy partnerships rarely ever do.
We use the word “rarely” because even people in the healthiest relationships occasionally slip up — they’re human, after all. But most of the time they treat each other in thoughtful, understanding and respectful ways.
Here’s what we can learn from them:
1. They don’t shy away from tough conversations.
No matter how compatible they are, no two partners are going to see eye-to-eye on every issue; disagreements will inevitably arise. Rather than sweeping their feelings under the rug to avoid a hard conversation, happy couples are capable of talking openly and honestly about the touchy stuff, like money, in-laws, parenting, sex and everything in between.
“Leaving important issues unexplored damages trust and leads to resentment and disengagement,” Winifred M. Reilly, a marriage and family therapist in Berkeley, California, and author of “It Takes One to Tango,” told HuffPost. “While tackling these issues takes patience and curiosity, along with courage, happy couples recognize that the reward for being honest and open is a greater sense of connection and a more satisfying life together.”
2. They don’t keep score.
Miami marriage and family therapist Amanda Baquero said happy partners don’t act like “emotional accountants,” carefully tallying each other’s good and bad deeds.
“Scorekeeping sounds like: ‘I always do this for them, but they never do it for me in return,’ or ‘Last week I said this four times, but they only said it once,’” Baquero said.
“Happy couples recognize that the reward for being honest and open is a greater sense of connection and a more satisfying life together.”
– WINIFRED M. REILLY, THERAPIST AND AUTHOR OF “IT TAKES ONE TO TANGO”
In a healthy relationship, both partners do loving things for one another because they want to — not because they’re expecting the other to return the favor. But if things get really unbalanced, the couple is able to talk through it in a respectful, rather than accusatory, tone.
“This might sound like, ‘For the past few weeks, I have felt like I’m taking on a bigger load than usual. Can we talk about that?’” Baquero said
3. They don’t hold grudges.
Unhappy couples allow frustrations and disappointments to create distance between them, whereas happy ones “accept that neither they nor their partners are perfect,” Reilly said. “They’re willing to apologize and forgive.”
Those in solid relationships don’t assume negative intent and are open to “readily repairing ruptures,” said Marni Feuerman, a couples therapist in Boca Raton, Florida.
“There’s a mindset the couple has around knowing that it’s really hard to be in a relationship and not make some mistakes or unwittingly cause hurt,” she said. “They can make, and also take in, a sincere apology and move on.”
4. They don’t call each other names.
Even in the heat of the moment, happy couples rarely, if ever, resort to name-calling because they understand that kind of communication is counterproductive and leads to “defensiveness, negativity and resentment,” Baquero said.
“When an unhappy couple enters my office, they are usually stuck in communication patterns that include contempt, name-calling and negativity,” Baquero said. “I often hear partners call each other idiot, loser, nobody and other expletives.”
Of course, even people in good relationships experience anger, frustration and disappointment toward their partner from time to time. But their overall view of their partner remains positive, supportive and respectful, Baquero said.
5. They don’t snoop.
When there’s openness and trust in a relationship, the idea of digging through your partner’s text messages or email just isn’t all that enticing.
“In a healthy relationship, it would probably be pretty boring to go through their things,” said Spencer Northey, a marriage and family therapist in Washington, D.C. “Your partner has already told you the interesting highlights. Why read their work emails if that’s not your job? Why go through their drawers when you have your own chores to do? In a healthy relationship, there is no sense that anyone is hiding anything worth discovering.”
By the same token, strong relationships are able to withstand a minor privacy blip now and then — like when one partner happens upon something accidentally or sneaks a peek out of innocent curiosity.
“Accidents, of course, are accidents, and should be forgivable if they were clearly unintentional,” Northey said. “And I also think some snooping or peeping is forgivable if the average person might also be tempted. Did you leave a strange bag out in plain sight? Inquiring minds want to know about it. Did a message with a puppy pic just pop up? Who got a puppy?”
Strong relationships can “navigate minor boundary violations easily,” she added. “They are par for the course, expected, and can even bring people closer together.”
6. They don’t lie to each other.
Healthy couples are able to be open and honest with one another — they don’t lie directly or by omission.
“In my experience, dishonesty never helps,” Northey said. “At best you get away with it, which is a burden you have to carry. But from my observation, it’s rare that people get away with it. Maintaining a lie makes it hard to maintain connection. You need your whole energy to be fully present in connection with someone, and holding a lie takes away a significant part of that energy.”
Plus, if the truth does come out eventually, it can be even harder to rebuild trust after so much time has passed.
“Healthy relationships support you being your true self,” Northey said. “They love you for who you are. They support honesty by accepting hard truths without hurtful reactivity. Healthy relationships support a dynamic where the truth can thrive.”
7. They don’t treat their partner like an opponent.
Happy couples remind each other regularly that they’re on the same team, said Kurt Smith, a therapist in Roseville, California, who specializes in counseling men.
“They avoid viewing situations through a winner-loser lens,” Smith said. “When you don’t treat your partner as the enemy, it’s amazing how much happier your relationship becomes.”
Some issues you can’t simply “agree to disagree” on, said Reilly. When that happens, happy couples are able to hash it out, compromise and come to a mutually agreeable decision.
“Will your mother-in-law come live with you? Will you adopt a puppy? Unhappy couples say, ‘Too bad, I’m doing it anyway,‘” Reilly said. “Happy couples slow down and look for a way that both people can say ‘yes’ to the outcome even if it wasn’t their first choice.”
8. They don’t take each other for granted.
When you’ve been together awhile, it’s easy to get comfortable in a relationship and stop making an effort like you did in the honeymoon phase. Some couples eventually put the relationship on autopilot, while the happiest ones are intentional about going out of their way to nurture their connection.
“This can be [done] by regular date nights, greeting each other when they get home at the end of the day — with eye contact, a greeting, hug or kiss — or showing interest by asking about things happening in their partner’s life,” Smith said.
To avoid falling into a rut, the happiest couples also find new things to explore together.
“They look for activities, events and experiences that inject fun and energy into the relationship,” Feuerman said. “They bring new ideas to try with each other and a willing heart to participate in them.”