11 Habits of Healthy Couples

Happy Couple Sunset

In my experience as a couples counselor and relationship specialist, I’ve noticed that the healthier and happier couples tend to share some common characteristics. The healthy habits listed below are by no means a comprehensive list, but are qualities that, when followed, will no doubt improve almost any relationship:

1. Respectful “Fighting”

The healthiest couples have mastered the ability to discuss almost any issue with mutual respect. Their goal in any discussion is to listen and understand one another as fully as possible. This is in stark contrast to the many (less healthy) couples who carry a score sheet, and focus on why they are “right,“ and their partner is “wrong.” The ability to maintain a respectful discussion necessitates that both partners have the skill set to self-soothe (calm themselves down), and the self-awareness to recognize when they are too upset to continue having a productive dialogue with their partner. These healthy couples often have an understanding that when either is too emotional to continue, they agree to postpone and reschedule the discussion in the near future. Establishing the ritual of choosing a regularly scheduled time to talk about important issues can be an important first step for many couples. Proper timing also fosters healthier conversations; it’s essential to know when to initiate a serious discussion and when not to (after a rough day at work, or when feeling too tired or otherwise stressed).

2. Timely Repair

There is little doubt that a strong correlation exists between happy couples and their ability to skillfully make repair attempts (see article for more information on repair attempts). Healthier couples are able to “repair” any damage to their connection with one another after a heated conversation or argument, and usually are able to do so in a timely way (without letting rifts last very long). These couples are also able to consistently accept each other’s repair attempts.

3. Love Language Fluency

Do you speak your partner’s love languages? Happy couples are typically familiar with how each other feels loved. The five ways people express and experience love, first described by Dr. Gary Chapman, are through: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. Connected couples are aware of their partner’s preferences, and make an effort to speak the languages that makes him or her feel most loved, even if they aren’t the ways that matter most personally.

4. Shared Activities

Couples who naturally, or with willing effort, are able to cultivate and develop shared interests and hobbies are more likely to feel connected and have a satisfying relationship. In fact, recent research shows that having shared activities contributes to the longevity of a relationship. Some couples may need to push themselves a bit in trying out activities that might not initially be very appealing to one or the other partner, in order to discover the shared activities that work for them.

5. Positive Interactions

Not surprisingly, studies conducted by Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute reveal that healthy relationships have a minimum of a 5 to 1 ratio of feel-good exchanges to negative ones. These positive gestures may be as simple as expressing appreciation with a quick hug or kiss in greeting, or checking in on each other during the day with a brief phone call, text, or email. It’s these “little things” that add up and can make a big difference in a couples’ overall happiness.


6. Tolerance

Happy couples have the ability to really accept, and learn to live with, problems in a relationship that don’t seem to ever improve very much. Gottman’s research refers to these issues as perpetual problems, and he found that 68% of conflict between partners involves these recurring issues that stay mostly unresolved, and thus come up repeatedly. Developing a tolerance for the differences that cannot, or will not, change is a key factor in preventing a breakup or divorce. Healthy couples accept their partner where they are, and don’t hold their breath waiting for a new behavior or attitude. The goal, of course, is to focus on the positive qualities of your significant other, and tolerate/learn to live with his or her less than desirable qualities. The alternative can quickly lead to relationship instability.

Happy couple at Wedding


7. Attentiveness

I’ve noticed how many happy couples prioritize having daily consistent and uninterrupted time together. This “protected one-on-one time” is without any electronics or any distractions, and allows partners to give each other their full attention. I recommend that couples start by devoting a 10-15 minute block of time to focus solely on each other. It’s a healthy routine to develop, and communicates clearly to one another that their relationship is, in fact, a priority.


8. Sex Life

The happiest couples recognize that maintaining an active and satisfying sex life doesn’t happen without working on it. While it’s unlikely to recapture the romantic passion experienced when first dating, healthy couples become skilled at talking about their sexual preferences. They are able to communicate their needs and discuss this delicate topic easily with each other. Some busy couples find it helpful to schedule “sex dates” in order to make this intimacy a priority in their relationship.


9. Healthy Individuals

In order for a couple to maximize the quality of their relationship, each individual partner must prioritize his or her own self-care. Happy couples attend to their own physical, mental, and spiritual health while striving to continuously grow as individuals. Relationships can suffer when both partners are not addressing their overall health issues.


10. Goal Setting

Being able to discuss both short term and long term goals allows a couple to know the road map ahead. Healthy couples communicate freely about their hopes and dreams and revisit their goals periodically. Regular discussions keep them on the same page and no topics are off limits.


11. Realistic Expectations

Perhaps the most important characteristic that the healthiest couples share is the notion that relationships require sustaining a true effort, and attentiveness, in order to flourish. These couples are also able to summon the motivation and energy needed to maximize the success of their relationship. The happiest couples are realistic enough to recognize that a rewarding deep connection doesn’t happen without putting in the work.

Next Steps

Healthy couple relationships don’t necessarily have all eleven of the above characteristics, but they’ve put in practice more than a few. If you’re just starting out on the path to improvement, I’d suggest starting slowly. Introduce one of the above habits at a time (that you have not yet included in your routine) and try to notice how your relationship is enhanced. After incorporating one new habit, alternate with your partner in choosing the next one that the two of you can strive for together.

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