5 Tips to Maintaining a Happy Relationship this Valentine's Day

Connecticut psychologist and marriage counselor David Russell, Ph.D offers advice on how to keep your relationships happy and loving.


1. Communication is key. Let your partner know which arguments make you feel unloved and unappreciated.

While there is no end to the things couples can fight about, Russell said, the key to solving the big relationship and marriage problems is to identify which issues are crucial to keeping each other satisfied.

"Look out for the things that make you feel unloved and unappreciated," Russell said. "The ones that don't go away the next day, those are dangerous signals."

Russell explained that in studies of divorced couples, these vital dissatisfactions were often talked about, but one partner either didn't know the importance of the issue or focused on other, less important disagreements.

There is no limit to what makes a person feel unloved, Russell said. A partner could embarrass the other in front of his friends, or share secrets with family members instead of her spouse; it all depends on the individual.

But the key is making sure both partners know what each other's "secret to satisfaction" is.

"Big or small, the size of the wound doesn't matter," he said. "What matters is if it's not addressed or dealt with."

2. Make sure that there are five positive interactions for every negative one in your relationship.

Creating more positive interactions than negative is crucial to forming a safe environment to discuss relationship issues, Russell explained.

"Think of it this way. In the bank of your heart, every positive puts in a dollar, and every negative takes out five," he said.

These interactions can range from deciding what's for dinner to supporting each other in a work dispute, but making sure that there is an overwhelming percentage of agreement and support in your daily interactions makes it easier for couples to get through tough discussions.

"You're not going to let your defenses down unless you're in an overwhelmingly positve environment," Russell said.

3. Every couple has problems. But make sure you talk about them when you both feel calm and collected.

There are fights in every relationship, but each partner's attitude going into a disagreement can either save or damage the conversation, Russell said. 

Too often, couples start to talk about one argument, but begin to unload a bunch of issues onto each other, according to Russell.

Instead, it's important to wait for a positive time, like a calm Sunday morning or an evening walk to talk out tough topics.

"You can develop good habits of bringing up issues when a spouse is least defensive," he said.

4. If one of you is upset, try to figure out ways to help each other calm down.

All younger couples can learn a lot from watching those in older, long-lasting marriages or relationships, Russell said, because those partners have learned how to help each other calm down.

"People have two speeds, approach and avoid. You're never truly in neutral," he said.

And when one partner ends up in an agitated state, they become self-centered and short-sighted, making useful discussion almost impossible, Russell explained.

Partners can give each other time alone, dole out the compliments, tease a bit or just go in for a hug to defuse the situation, Russell said. It's all about figuring out what each person needs to calm down.

"The only time any couple has solved anything, little or big, is when both people are feeling safe and secure."

5. Learn how to be a "successful spouse." Solving your relationship problems begins with looking at your own behavior.

The best way to work on a relationship, is for each partner to take a long look at their own habits, according to Russell.

"You are only in control of one person, and your spouse or partner is not that person," Russell said.

It is essential for each person to hone their own conflict resolution skills to make a happy marriage or partnership.

"If a husband and wife are both focusing on the one person they can change, then things can work out," he said.

Dr. David Russell, Ph.D, runs a counseling, coaching and consulting service out of West Hartford. He earned his Masters and Ph.D in clinical psychology from Rutgers University. To contact Russell, visit his website or call 860-561-4841.


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