Tuesday, June 3, 2008

5 Secrets of a Happy, Lasting Relationship

What makes a relationship last? Common interests, a wild sex life, good communication? Maybe hard work or just good luck? According to a US study The Enrich Couple Inventory, there are actually 5 criteria that are vital for a long happy relationship. The researchers identified these five nuggets after asking 21,501 couples – happy and unhappy – 195 intimate questions about what makes their relationship tick. Does your relationship have them? Here’s your lasting love check list, so you’ll know once and for all if he’s Mr Right…

Rule 1: You must be good communicators
  • 90% of happy couples say they’re satisfied with the way they talk to each other.
  • 83% of happy couples say their partner is a good listener.
Happy couples generally talk easily to each other and crucially feel listened to. That doesn’t mean they chatter away endlessly amused by their partner’s repartee. In fact it’s not how much, but what kind of communication you have that’s important, says London based couples counsellor Alix Needham.
“You may talk a lot about what’s going on in the news or what you’re having for supper but are you communicating on relationship issues? Never assume you understand each other’s feelings or motivations. That’s how wires get crossed and problems arise.”

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To stop communication problems in their tracks, you need to step out of your domestic routine – just the two of you – on a regular basis. “Avoid distracting or formal activities, such as restaurants or a night at the theatre,” says Needham. “Go away for a quiet weekend or a long walk in the country. You’ll find it much easier to talk about deeper issues.”
During discussions, avoid inviting monosyllabic answers – common when you’re tired or on dangerous ground. Ask open ended questions – “What was the most/best nightmarish part of your day?” rather than, “Good day?” Or “What do you think we should do about changing the mortgage?” instead of, “Have you sorted out the mortgage?” That way you’ll elicit more information and oil the wheels of conversation.

Rule 2: You must see eye to eye over money
  • 80% of happy couples say that financial decisions aren’t difficult.
So you get married or move in together. You’re hoping you’ll both work hard, get promoted, move up the property ladder, get the kids in a good school and take three holidays a year. He meanwhile is thinking of self-employment, slowing down a bit and enjoying life’s pleasures. Can couples with different goals stay together? “This is the most important criteria for a long-lasting relationship,” says Needham. “You need to be sure your ambitions are on the same track before you commit.”
Relationships coach Peta Heskell says, “although it’s unlikely you’ll share every ambition, it’s important to spend time discussing your opinions on a wide variety of topics before you commit to living with or marrying someone. This should be done formally – covering subjects such as money, outside interests, TV, time spent with friends, attitudes to living space, children, what ifs…”
If you’re already committed, the main caveat is to be careful not to make assumptions from passing remarks. He said he wanted a baby, but you’d imagined he meant when you had more money or a bigger place – not now. “Lack of mutual understanding in areas of money, lifestyle, your future together, some of which may even sound quite petty, is what causes couples to split up,” says Heskell.

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Heskell recommends regularly reviewing future plans. Sit down once a month and ask each other what’s going well at work and home. Would you like the other to do anything differently? Where do you hope to be in six months, a year, five years? Even if you’re not singing from the exact same hymn sheet, it’s key to know each other’s ambitions.
Establishing joint goals and indulging each other’s dreams doesn’t mean your paths have to divide. “Pursuing dreams gives meaning to life, which is essential to being happy with yourself and your relationship,” says Jonanthon Robinson, author of Communicaiton Miracles for Couples. “Ask your partner, ‘what would you do if you won 10 million dollars?” Sounds pie in the sky, but once you’ve removed constraints, he says, you’re freer to identify your goals. “Force yourself to do one small thing that brings you closer to fulfilling them each week, whether that’s putting aside money, getting the house valued or picking up those travel brochures.”

Rule 3: You must have “me” and “us” time
  • 71% of happy couples say they have a good balance of leisure time spent together and apart.
  • 86% of happy couples say they find it easy to think of things to do together.
Having your own separate interests is vital but you both need to be happy about how much time the other person spends pursuing them and how much time you spend together. “Never think that because you’re getting married or moving in together your partner will suddenly want to spend less time tinkering with his classic car or watching football,” says Peta Heskell. Or that he’ll suddenly develop a love of shoe shopping.
The key is not to put a limit on who spends how much time where, but to find a partner whose lifestyle fits comfortably with yours,” she says. “Make sure neither of you is expecting the other to fill the gaps in your life. Allowing someone time to do his or her own thing often makes them more loving. Instead of dreading the return to nagsville, they look forward to coming home and sharing the fun of their day.

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Enjoy your own space. Before you include him in your plans, ask yourself, ‘Is this something I’d do even if he wasn’t joining me?’ If it is, leave him out of it.
If finding mutually convenient leisure time is hard, plan “together” time. Schedule dates in your diaries one evening a week or a weekend away a month and take it in turns to arrange.
Want to do more together? Find a joint hobby, advises Jonathon Robinson. “Make a list of 12 activities you enjoy or fancy trying and get your partner to do the same.”
Theres bound to be some crossover, even if it means that while you’re learning to sail, he’s catching up on some good books in the local pub.

Rule 4: You must be flexible
  • 81% of happy couples say they are willing to make adjustments in their relationship.
So happy couples, it seems are prepared to make lifestyle compromises to accommodate their partner’s needs as well as changes in circumstance that inevitably happen in life.
Alix Needham says a degree of flexibility is essential. “You will never find all the qualities you like in one person. If he’s kind funny and great in bed, you’ll probably discover he’s the messiest person alive or hopeless with money.”
To be sure of relationship success, Needham suggests making a list of the qualities that are essential in a partner for you. “He’s trustworthy, intelligent and understands you, so do his dodgy fashion sense and poor time-keeping really matter?” Probably not – so work around it. If you need him to love your family, however and he can’t abide them or he refuses to share any household chores (that’s your role according to him), it may be time to move on.

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If you’re in a relationship make the same list. What do you love about him? Which of his qualities do you find sexy, fascinating or never fail to impress you? Reminding yourself of a few of your own shortcomings and what he has to put up with may help.
So you want him to help more at home or accept that you want a few more girls nights out? Rethink those “you never” or “you always” accusations that get dragged into disputes. Try voicing your needs instead of criticizing your partner’s shortcomings, suggests US relationship expert Suzanne Lopez, author of Get Smart With Your Heart. “Instead of saying, ‘You never help me wash up,’ try, ‘I’m exhausted’, I could do with a hand.”
Lifestyle coach Suzy Greaves advises couples to have the “needs” discussion. “You may need to be adored (receive little presents; be taken out for romantic meals). He may just need to be looked after (have his bill paperwork taken care of/have sex twice a week). To identify your different needs, write a list (try it over a bottle of wine). Then swap lists. The rules are you can’t dismiss what each other has written (even if it is a blow job every day!). You must take your partner’s needs seriously.”

Rule 5: You must be compatible sexually
  • 85% of happy couples say their sexual relationship is fulfilling.
No surprises there. A good sex life is important. In fact, nearly a third of unhappy couples cited their sex life as a source of conflict and dissatisfaction.
“Good sex is great,” says Heskell. “But any relationship founded on that alone will soon struggle when the first flush of romance has waned.”
Still never underestimate the importance of sex to a relationship. Problems arise when only one of you wants sex. And if no one dares talk about it, resentment brews.
The key is to understand that it’s actually OK to have different sex drives and that they fluctuate as a result of stress, work, illness, pregnancy or children. Even if your sexual appetites differ, you can reach compromises. As long as you talk about problems and are prepared to solve them, the experts say you’ll be fine.

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Find common ground. What ingredients work for you both? Sunday lunch sex instead of Saturday night sex? Even if you have different appetites, your sex life and relationship can still thrive with a bit of consideration and fun says Anne Hooper, author of Can You Pass The Sex Test?
Think of your sex life as a muscle you need to exercise regularly. Remember to flirt, says Hooper, try saucy texts at work, swap your pj’s for a sexy camisole and get in the habit of being physical with each other with kisses and cuddles. And don’t forget to tell him yow much you fancy him. He may have forgotten.

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