How Happy Couples Stay that Way

Self-Therapy For People Who ENJOY Learning About Themselves


I've arranged this list from "most necessary" on down. ...Thanks to my two major "teachers" on this topic: My wife, Janet, and the couples I've met through therapy...


The MOST important trait of all: whether the two people spend enough time and energy on each other.

"Enough" is a personal matter to be decided between them. Each couple must work out how much is enough (and how much is too much) on their own.

Some couples have terrible relationships even though they are good at all of the other things mentioned in this article. To outsiders it appears that their "only" problem is that they have screwed up priorities. They spend their time and energy on money, career, their extended families - everything but their relationship!

Even though these couples treat each other rather well when they are together, both partners usually have major levels of fear about commitment and intimacy. Therapy is usually a very good idea for them.


The second most important trait is the regular availability of safe physical touch. Non-sexual touching is a bit more important than sexual touching, but SAFE touch (non-intrusive, wanted, freely-given, and well absorbed), is why we get together as couples in the first place.


Sad to say, but this third trait is not a very common one in this culture. COOPERATIVE couples believe that conflicts are resolved when BOTH people get what they want. COMPETITIVE couples believe that conflicts are resolved when one person "wins" and the other person "loses"

Most couples try to "compromise" instead of being either completely cooperative or totally competitive. They each try to "lose as little as possible" and "win as much as possible" (which is still a competitive, not cooperative).


Compromise is needed SOMETIMES, but very, very seldom.

In most conflicts it IS possible to find a way for both people to get what they truly want instead of settling for some "part" of it.

Compromising and competitive couples don't even THINK about how they can BOTH get what they want.


Every relationship has some serious problems to face, and each person brings their own "psychological baggage" with them. How couples handle these issues often separates those who succeed from those who fail.

Two important characteristics operate here: Successful couples know who OWNS the problem and who's RESPONSIBLE for fixing it.

It is vital that each person "own" their own problems, and that neither person takes responsibility for "fixing" the other.

(See "What Helps?" - Another article in this series.)


Couples often have disagreements about what might be called "concrete" matters - things like how clean to keep the house, how much money to have in the bank, etc.

Successful couples understand that on each of these issues the person with the higher standards is responsible for any additional work that might be required to meet their higher standard.

Example #1:

The Standard: He wants the house to "sparkle." She is happy when it's just "not dirty." A Fair Resolution: They split the work required to make their place "not dirty," but it's HIS responsibility to go beyond that to make it "sparkle."

Example #2:

The Standard: She wants to be "rich." He wants only "to get by" financially. A Fair Resolution: They split the work required to make them "get by," but it's HER job to go beyond that to make them "rich."


This way of resolving conflicts acknowledges that standards about such things are voluntary, and that each person's standards are their own responsibility. It also acknowledges that neither person has a responsibility to "make" the other person happy!

The person with the lower standards may CHOOSE to share the extra work, but this is a choice to be appreciated and not a requirement to be demanded or expected. If this still feels "unfair" to you, remember: Each person CHOSE their partner in the first place! If my wife is "too dirty" or "not rich enough" for me - and if she didn't con me when we met - it is MY responsibility that I'm with her! I made that choice!

...Now you'll have to excuse me... I've got to go explain to Janet about that last statement being just an example....

next: How to Have a Lousy Sex Life!

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 1). How Happy Couples Stay that Way, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: March 29, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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