The Common Features of Successful Relationships

Marriage is a lot of things. It’s beautiful and exciting and full of hope that you’ll live happily ever after. If we’re being honest, marriage is also work. It takes genuine effort to keep the spark alive when life gets in the way. And sometimes it’s not necessarily how couples treat each other when things are coming up roses. It’s how couples interact when the going gets tough that says the most about how successful the relationship will be. Self Magazine spoke with a few top marriage counselors who shared the primary traits common to couples with strong, positive and long-lasting relationships:

1. They Argue

It's okay to fight once in a while, and it's not a sign that you're relationship is in trouble. According to psychologist Kristen Carpenter, Ph.D., Director of Women’s Behavioral Health at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, the key is to make sure these disagreements are balanced by positive and loving interactions such as “good discussions, date nights, affection or gratitude.” Arguments can be a positive step for relationships if they’re constructive and both sides really listen to and understand each other.  As Dr. Carpenter points out, if you think your spouse should know what you need without you having to tell them, "you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment." Communication is key.

2. They Listen

It’s important to make sure you’re being heard, but it’s equally important to listen to what your significant other is thinking and feeling. “One of the biggest things that gets in the way of problem-solving is when a couple does not want to listen to each other” because it means they “don’t hear each other, and they do not want to understand,” says Dr. Carin Goldstein, LMFT. One way to avoid this is by engaging in active listening by repeating what your spouse says to you and reframing it: “What I’m hearing you say is that, when I do X, Y or Z, you feel attacked.” This is a good way to check in with each other and shift the tone of the conversation before it reaches a boiling point.

3. They Value Time Spent Together - and Apart

Life is busy and complicated and we’re all constantly juggling a variety of priorities. It can be easy to put your partner on the back burner. But as Carpenter says, “staying in touch and protecting your time together” is critical. By the same token, you have to make time for you because it’s “impossible to be your best self in a relationship if you’re not your best self on your own. Sometimes, it makes sense to take a step back and look inward,” says Carpenter. If you’re feeling a little off, treat yourself to a spa day, or go out for drinks with friends. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

For more tips on maintaining a loving relationship with your significant other for years to come, head to Self.

What do you do to keep the flame alive in your relationship? Share with us in the comments below!