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If you’re past the honeymoon phase of your relationship, you’re probably beginning to realize that you need to work at keeping your relationship in great condition.  So how do couples nurture over time,  a better, happier relationship with their partner?  The answer may not be exactly what you would expect.  

If you’ve ever sought advice on improving your couple’s relationship, you’ve probably been advised in couple’s therapy or in the latest self-help book to minimize the negative aspects of your relationship.  For instance, you’ve been encouraged to stop blaming your partner; stop stonewalling; stop yelling; stop ignoring the other’s needs; stop expecting your partner to read your mind; stop engaging in infidelity; etc.  While this advice is admirable and accurate, it isn’t the only thing you can do.  Indeed, there is a much more effective way to improve and maintain a happy relationship.  This article will provide you with the latest information on maximizing a positive outcome in your committed relationship.

Positively oriented psychologists like Seligman brought us research on optimism and ushered in a new focus in psychology.  Application to couples well-being suggests that maintaining a favorable balance of positive to negative emotions helps couples thrive.  Instead of steering clear of negative interactions and toxic behaviors that harm, couples can proactively focus on building more positives into their relationships.  The old song, “Accentuate the positive,” provides a great deal of wisdom for couples. 

Couples who effectively seek to encourage more positive feelings in their relationship, concentrate on sharing fun and meaningful experiences together; engage in activities to promote growth and development; and create opportunities for satisfaction and emotional and sexual intimacy.    

A positive recipe for a creating a happier couple’s relationship might include building in positives such as the following:
1.  Express gratitude for your spouse.  Too often, partners take each for granted and forget to focus on the positive things their partners do.  
2.  Smile at your partner more often and remember to keep things light and playful during minor conflicts.  Teasing that is playful (not hostile) can help conflicts from escalating.
3.  Be a cheerleader and supporter for your partner during good times.  Capitalize on good news.
4.  Concentrate on the things you like about your mate and emphasize those characteristics or behaviors.  Partners who idealize each other wind up much happier.
5.  Focus on bringing the best out in your mate.  Too often, couples focus on the things they dislike about their partner (i.e. you smoke too much), rather than the things they appreciate about them (i.e. you keep yourself physically fit).  
6.  Pay attention to your partner and really notice small differences.  After being around someone for any length of time, it is easy to stop really noticing him or her.  
7.  Put your positive feelings in writing.  
8.  Engage in physical contact (a warm and tender touch, a back rub, sexual intimacy) since it increases oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates bonding and reduces stress.  

Small, positive gestures help to build a reservoir of good-will that keeps your relationship replenished.  While stopping negative behaviors is helpful to any relationship, an absence of positives is like living in an environment without any positive reinforcement.  Positive feelings tend to wilt and die when they’re not reinforced. While a couple’s environment may be free of negatives, it is not enough to maintain a strong and happy bond between the couple.  

Relationships, like plants, need constant tending and nourishment.  Happy couples constantly engage in behaviors that positively reward their mate.  They keep their eye on the things they love about their partner and remind them of what they like more than they complain about the negatives.   

© Copyright, 2010, Ginger E. Blume, Ph.D.