Everyone knows that marriage takes work. But what many don’t realize is that they might be working on the wrong things. Or even working on the right things in the wrong way.
Positive psychology is the science of strengths and looking at what makes individuals and couples thrive. Research tells us that if we focus on actively building upon the good aspects of our relationships, that we are better positioned to experience happiness in them.
Here are six tips that renowned, relationship author, Suzann Pileggi and her husband James, say will lead to better days for you and your spouse.
1. CULTIVATE A HEALTHY PASSION
That idea of crazy-passionate lovers who are always on each other’s minds and obsess over each other daily? Total hogwash. In fact, per Pileggi this thinking is detrimental, as it can give rise to the idea that obsessive passion is a healthy thing.
In order to create a healthy passion, Pileggi says to be sure to make room in your mind for your other interests and other people. Then, when you are with your partner, find ways to connect over things that you both enjoy. “It’s about forging a deeper bond, not trying to be competitive,” Pileggi says. “So don’t choose something that you really like and enjoy and your wife has no interest in. The idea is to connect, not to compete.”
2. EMBRACE THE UPSIDE
New relationships are filled with excitement, joy, passion. But, as the relationship progresses and you both get more comfortable with each other, some people expect that those positive emotions will just happen without any effort. Not so. “The research shows that the happiest couples with the most sustainable marriages are the ones who actively cultivate them all the time and prioritize them as opposed to waiting around for them to happen,” says Pileggi.
Couples in long-term relationships who are looking to cultivate positive emotions have to ask themselves what can they do each day, what activities or actions can they do in order to keep positive emotions flowing in a marriage.
One activity that Pileggi and her husband discuss in Happy Together is a ‘Positive Relationship Portfolio,’ And yes, it is actually a portfolio: of pictures, mementos, and other such items that mean something in your relationship. The point of the exercise is to devote time to thinking about the fond memories, which, per Pileggi, is extremely important. However you do it is up to you.
3. SAVOR EXPERIENCES
Positive emotions and moments are fleeting. Pileggi says that it’s important to slow down and take time to enjoy them. “Research shows that if you spend at least 15 minutes savoring something you could increase your satisfaction,” she says. “One way to do that is sharing secrets with one another. Ask your spouse about a favorite childhood experience, or a secret they never told anyone or big idea or dream they always had for the future.” The more you open up and talk about these sorts of things, the deeper a bond you’re able to create.
4. LOCATE AND FOCUS ON CHARACTER STRENGTHS
What are your partner’s strengths? Do you know? Positive Psychology researchers have identified 24 character traits that people possess in different measures. Things like creativity, curiosity, zest, love of learning, leadership. Pileggi recommends taking a Character Strengths test with your partner. Then, once you’ve determined what your strengths are, you can have conversations with each other about them. From there, Pileggi says, you both can go on what she and her husband call a “strength date.” Sounds weird right? But the idea is sound: each of you to pick a top strength and go on a date that plays to — and satisfies — both of them.
5. EMPHASIZE GRATITUDE
“If your partner feels taken advantage of and not acknowledged, they’re not going to be satisfied,” she says. And just saying “thanks” isn’t enough. If your spouse gives you a gift or does something kind for you, don’t just thank them, but also say something like, “You really know what I need and you’re such a good listener.”
It’s about being deliberate and specific in how you express appreciation for your partner. “Which means focusing on your partner and her actions and her strengths rather than solely on the gift and the benefit to you.” The end result: Per Pileggi, couples who did this decreased their chances of breaking up six months later by 50%.
6. SHOW AFFECTION
Always being “hugged up” doesn’t necessarily mean a relationship is more successful, in fact it can mean the opposite. However a study by Binghamton University doctoral student in psychology, Samantha Wagner, found that showing more affection to your partner can help to make your relationship stronger.
Looking at a sample of almost 200 heterosexual couples over the age of 18 the study found that, specifically for men, more routine affection has a high correlation with relationship satisfaction and, for women, low rates of affection are correlated to relationship dissatisfaction. “Interestingly, there’s some evidence that holding your partner’s hand while you’re arguing de-escalates the argument and makes it more productive,” said Wagner.
This was adapted from an article published by Jeremy Brown on LADDERS.