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10 Timeless Guidelines for a Happy Relationship

happy relationship

Relationships are under a lot of pressure these days and I want to help. There are certain basic guidelines that can benefit any two people trying to build a truly happy relationship. Here are 10 of my favorite timeless guidelines for building a happy relationship.

1. Listen with your ears and your heart. It is extremely important to listen to your partner when they try to communicate with you. Communication is the life blood of a good relationship. Giving them your undivided attention is a sign of deep respect, but don’t just hear them with your ears, make sure that your heart is listening also.  Instead of nitpicking over their choice of words try to hear the real meaning behind their words. If they want to talk when you are in the middle of something important, unless it’s an emergency, suggest a time when you’ll be able to pay closer attention.

2. Never, ever keep score. Don’t walk around with a watchful eye making sure your partner carries their share of the workload. Instead, take the view that it doesn’t matter if you end up doing more than half of what has to be done. There is absolutely no benefit to trying to make sure that everything in your relationship is divided fifty-fifty. Do what you can reasonably do and avoid making comparisons. Unless your spouse is very lazy or refuses to take responsibility in general, don’t keep track of who does more and who does less.

3. Don’t criticize in public. Being criticized can be tough to take under the best of conditions, but especially in front of other people. All it does is humiliate your partner and raise their defenses. When you embarrass your mate in public it weakens the bonds of intimacy and can undermine your happy relationship. The same principle applies if you have children. Criticizing your partner in the presence of your children undermines their authority with the kids and can cause them to develop an attitude of disrespect. This is especially true if your mate is a stepparent.

4. Don’t fight about money. Money is a highly emotionally charged subject, especially when couples are feeling a financial squeeze. Disagreements about money have always been among the most common causes of relationship conflicts and this trend has escalated dramatically since the economic downturn. Money problems can cause tremendous stress which seems to form a catalyst for frustration based agitation. When money is tight it’s vital to seek a solution together as a couple. If you lean on each other your already happy relationship will actually get stronger during tough times.

5. Eliminate “always” and “never” from your vocabulary. When your mate does something wrong, exaggerating the offense will only make things worse. Nobody likes to be told that they always make the same mistake or that they never do what they should have done. It may seem like that is the case when you are upset, but how do you feel when someone lays the same accusation on you? Thinking in exaggerated terms is nothing more than a bad habit that only agitates a situation and undermines your relationship. Try replacing words like always and never with more realistic, less accusatory terms like often or sometimes. You will feel much less angry inside.

6. Build trust into your relationship. Trust doesn’t happen by accident, it’s up to you to earn it. This may take some effort if your partner has been betrayed in the past and still carries the emotional scars. If you want to be trusted then avoid behavior that creates distrust. Be mindful not to get too close with or flirt with members of the opposite sex. Even if your motives start out innocent, in reality you are just inviting problems into your relationship. Your partner may start to feel threatened or you might begin to view that other person as an alternative in the event that your relationship doesn’t work out. Be resolved to do all you can reasonably do to give your partner every reason to trust you completely.

7. Only make favorable comparisons. This is something that you need to be very careful with because making comparisons can be a two edged sword. Being compared with some exceptional person in a positive way can really brighten your partner’s day. On the other hand, making an unfavorable comparison is something you never want to do because it will cause your partner to feel either inadequate or jealous. And whatever you do don’t compare them to your ex. In fact, don’t even talk about past relationships. It is much better to just leave the past in the past and focus on the present.

8. Work at fulfilling your mate’s emotional needs. When a person’s most important emotional needs are met, they feel content and fulfilled. Conversely, when a person’s most important emotional needs are not being met, they feel empty, lonely, unfulfilled, or frustrated. Granted, every person has the responsibility to try and meet their own needs, but you can help.  Making a concerted effort to help fulfill the most important emotional needs of your mate will go a long way toward building a happy relationship. As you work to discover and help fill the needs of your partner you will find that your own needs are also being met. This is truly a win for everyone involved.

9. Be ready to forgive. We all make mistakes and when we do we appreciate it when the people we care about give us the benefit of the doubt. Well, this is a two way street and we should be willing to forgive when the opportunity arises. It’s been said that a happy relationship is made up of two good forgivers. One of the ways we can show a forgiving attitude is by not holding unrealistic expectations. This takes into account the fact that no one is perfect and sets the stage for built in forgiveness. Anything that fosters feelings of togetherness helps build your happy relationship and that is exactly what a forgiving attitude does.

10. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Any relationship worth building up and strengthening is something to be deeply grateful for. After all, you could be alone! Having an attitude of gratitude means that your partner will know that you appreciate them. Your appreciation will be obvious in your words and actions, and they will never need to question your feelings in this. Gratitude is like a big giant security blanket that will transform the overall feel of your relationship. Being thankful for your mate every single day is one of the most empowering things you can do to build a truly exceptional relationship.

What guidelines would you add to this list?
Is your happy relationship experiencing stress?
The lines are open!

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30 Comments

  1. Ted October 21, 2011 Reply

    Thanks, this came at the right moment. I periodically need to be reminded of these things because it’s so easy to forget them during these stressful times.

    • Hi Ted, that’s because stress has a way of distorting our perception. The amazing thing is that restoring or sense of balance with regard to our perception helps reduce the the very stress that created the distortion in the first place.

  2. Rob October 21, 2011 Reply

    I could definitely benefit from taking the advice on eliminating “always and never” from my vocabulary. It’s a knee-jerk reaction for me to go down that path.

    And you’re totally right – it’s terrible.

    • Hi Rob, the always and never conundrum is an easy one to slip into. It can be helpful to remind yourself to avoid it when you about to share your perception on a situation that might lean that direction. The first step to breaking any habit is always conscious awareness.

      • Rob October 22, 2011 Reply

        Yeah, you’re absolutely right.

        I really appreciate this post, because I was able to leave it actually knowing I have something to work on. And we all know, if you’re not trying to improve yourself, then what exactly are you doing?

        Cheers, Jonathan!

  3. Steven Aitchison October 22, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan. Some great advice here. I know we share the same philosophy on relationships, but I still managed to gleen some great info from this, more of a reminder.

    I think fulfilling your partners emotional needs is something I constantly strive to do. It’s a win win, I feel happy when my wife is happy, not for an easy life, but because we are so in tune with each other that I can actually feel what she is feeling a lot of the time, even physical pain.

    Great advice Jonathan

    • Greetings Steve, I know you have a great family life and you have just revealed one of the reasons why. I also know that your daily routine always includes some one-on-one time with each family member. You know my motto: A happy wife is a happy life. Thanks for stopping by my friend, it’s always good to connect with you!

  4. marc October 22, 2011 Reply

    Great advice, Jonathan!

    I love number 10 – cultivating of the attitude of gratitude. Being grateful for your mate is a very powerful attitude and something worthy to cultivate. This is not always simple – every one has their own values and it can be a real challenge to appreciate their values. There is always something to be grateful for, no matter what, but it not always visible with the naked eye. It needs real attention and intention to be grateful.

    Thanks for your great advice!

    • Hi Marc, there are several aspects to truly rewarding relationships that are not always simple, but they are certainly worth cultivating. Like any thing truly worthwhile, building a lasting and loving relationship requires work. Our closet relationship has the potential to be one of the most rewarding human experiences or one of the worst. Much depends on what we are willing to put into it.

  5. Hi Jonathan,

    I am sure you are a stellar partner! These are all wonderful reminders and suggestions. The one I might add, and that I have learned, is to learn to take care of your own feelings. I have learned not to have “the talk” which most men don’t like. Rather, I see my own emotional reaction and work with the feeling within myself. 90% of the time I don’t need to bring up the issue. I have been amazed at how this works.

    • Ted October 23, 2011 Reply

      I was just thinking something similar – pick your battles. I know there’s some who think that all their emotions need to be validated through discussion, but many times, I find that my initial emotional reactions to something really aren’t ‘valid’ – it’s my own baggage rearing its ugly head. I do my best to ask myself “does this really need to be brought up?” Usually the answer is no.

    • Hi Gail, that is such an excellent point. The more willing we are to assume responsibility for our own feelings, the lighter the load of expectation placed on the relationship. In my experience this degree of awareness is rare because it requires, to an unusual degree, the absence of selfish motives. The fact that you brought it up speaks volumes about what you bring to the table in a relationship Gail. Thank you so much for raising the bar with your comment.

      And Ted, that is also a great point about the validity and source of our emotional reactions. Something for all of us to consider before we speak.

  6. Scott October 23, 2011 Reply

    All great advice. Let me add one to it (I’ve been married 19 years, together 21): a tender touch.

    Hold hands. Put your arm around them in the movies. Snuggle on the same couch, not separate chairs. Rub their neck, their back, their feet, etc.

    If you’re not comfortable with it in public, that’s fine… do it in private. And I can guarantee, when it stops, you’re in trouble. And if one person stops but the other doesn’t, that’s a sure sign something’s wrong too. Don’t let it continue without finding out what’s behind it.

    • Nice add Scott, certainly the physical connection plays a vital role in a happy relationship. Most of our communication is nonverbal and touch represents a major communication channel.

  7. Marcelina October 24, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan –

    Wonderful post with many key points. My in-laws are in the process of getting a divorce and they failed to do all of these in their marriage – especially not criticize each other in public. It’s so important to respect each other. Sometimes couples forget that they have to treat each just as well as they would treat a stranger. Isn’t that something – sometimes we treat strangers better than we treat our own spouses…

    • Hi Marcelinda, that is so true. There is an old saying that Familiarity breeds contempt and sadly, that seems to be the case in some relationships as well. Manifesting an attitude of gratitude for our partner will help prevent this kind of behavior. We all have our own little idiosyncrasies. How much better to view our partner’s unique characteristics as entertaining rather than irritating.

      • Ted October 24, 2011 Reply

        That’s precisely what led to our creation of OurKudos.com. It’s so easy to focus on the negative that we often forget to show our gratitude to the important people in our lives. We’re trying to weave the idea of “catch somebody doing something good” into our daily routines by sending Kudos whenever we do. It’s really powerful and uplifting for both the giver and receiver.

  8. Grady October 24, 2011 Reply

    I think you’ve hit every single one of these right on the head. Some of the biggest fights between me and my wife started out about money and involved using “always” and “never” in the arguments. If we had followed these guidelines, things might have been different.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Grady, it’s never too late to incorporate new strategies into your life and relationships. Remember, we all make mistakes, but life is meant to be a continuing experience of growing and learning.

  9. Kola October 24, 2011 Reply

    This article caught my eye because a friend and I just had a long conversation about how money is one of the leading causes of divorce. Just out of curiosity, do you have a strong opinion on the idea of joint accounts vs. separate ones?

    • Hi Kola, I believe that the best relationships require a total commitment. I know the concept of commitment feels limiting to some, but in reality it is very liberating. If you are really determined to take your relationship to the highest level both parties need to close all possible escape routes. That means no exit strategy, just onward and upward. If we place a higher value on money than on the relationship what does that say about our level of commitment? It means that we either don’t trust our mate or we don’t plan on sticking around forever. If either one of these is true, then the relationship will always be limited and hampered (read: not as fulfilling as it could be).

      The truth is, vulnerability on several levels comes with the territory. It also unlocks the door to awesome! So, if separate accounts and prenuptial agreements feel necessary, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.

  10. Andrew November 2, 2011 Reply

    Hey Jonathan. That’s a great list you have there… probably the only thing that I would add is RESPECT. And that comes down to a simple choice… you CHOOSE to respect your partner always, no matter what. As a result, my partner and I have never had a fight or argument in the 3 years we’ve been together.

    Someone else mentioned the physical touch… so true, so important to a great relationship.

  11. Moyo December 30, 2011 Reply

    I love how it starts with communication, that’s a timeless principle. I will also add COMMITMENT! Parties in a relationship need to make a decision to make it work, and commit to that decision. I think that is missing in a lot of relationships. People are so ready to walk out as the first option, because there is no binding commitment. I mean binding from within. If this were the case, people will actually choose as plan A: make it work, plan B: make it work, plan C: make it work….you get my point.

  12. Nea March 19, 2012 Reply

    What a touching post, Jonathan! There are so many good ones here.I’ve found that making comparisons is a huge no-no, but I love the distinction you’ve made. We can make comparisons in ways that uplifts and motivates, thereby strengthening the relationship. A marvelous tip!

  13. Nicky May 5, 2014 Reply

    Competitiveness in relationships on who is the “bigger” person some time occurs for mine. Respect and honor is something I’m learning. Picking out his honorable traits seemed odd, fake and weird at first, but now, not only do I hold him in the highest regards, but the honor also makes me grateful for him. It has folded over onto my boys also as I realize to males honor and respect is a huge way of how they interpret love. Women like to hear “I love you” men like to hear “I am proud of you!”

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