Let’s face it—parenting can be hard on your relationship. You go from spending entire weekends lounging together in bed to tag-teaming a toddler’s middle-of-the-night barf session. A lack of sleep, the division of chores, finances, and the general stress of life can take a toll on you and your partner. But some duos weather the storm better than others, and they’ve got some things in common, so we scoured the latest research to find out what keeps these couples happy in the long run

We also enlisted the help of Dr. Faith Drew, LMFT, a Gottman-certified couples counselor based in Arizona with a PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy, and she’s seen it all. “I’ve worked with couples for 20 years,” she says. “My big thing is helping them gain perspective.” Turns out, a lot of what works comes down to expectations and perspective (and a little touch never hurts!). Here are the seven things happy couples seem to have in common. 

Don’t Expect to Be Happy Every Day

A perfect union doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time. “Conflict is inevitable,” says Drew. “You have two people coming from different backgrounds with different personalities.” Some research has found that upwards of 69% of conflict is never going to be solvable.

While that stat might seem shocking, it’s actually kind of freeing, Drew explains. “You’re never going to change who you are or the other person, so it’s all about finding ways to navigate different perspectives.” With that in mind, studies have also concluded that showing your anger when issues arise makes for better relationships in the long run because it pushes you to find a way to work through your problems.

It’s Okay to Argue

Speaking of different perspectives, disagreeing with your partner is normal and no, it doesn’t mean you need to fix every issue. Research from The University of Tennessee Knoxville found that even the happiest couples argued but the key difference was that they had a solution-oriented approach to conflict. 

The researchers observed self-described “happy couples” discussing marital problems and all the pairs focused on issues with clearer solutions, like chores, versus bigger marital issues that may be difficult to solve. So, feel free to focus on solving the smaller stuff, says the research, because it will ultimately give you more confidence to tackle the bigger stuff when it comes along. 

Make Time for Physical Touch

A lot of parents feel “touched out” by the end of the day, especially if they have young kids, but keeping up physical connection with your partner can be important to their happiness—and yours. That doesn’t just mean sex. Kissing, hugging, holding hands, and other forms of intimacy also matter. According to research, partners who touched each other more and who were happy with the amount of touch (which can vary, of course) tended to be happier and more sexually satisfied. 

Drew says this physical relationship is important but adds that there are caveats.

“Sometimes couples only focus on physical touch and then they tend to actually feel really resentful,” she explains. “They say, ‘I’m doing this thing and it’s not working,” but really there’s this big scope of the relationship that’s not being addressed.” Using physical touch can be one element of putting some of those emotional deposits into your relationship, but ultimately it only matters if people feel appreciated and loved at the same time, she explains.

Get Your ZZZs

Self-care can mean exercising, eating well, doing yoga, or even just getting enough shut-eye. Research shows that how you feel after a bad night’s sleep can completely change how you feel toward your partner. One study looked at the relationship between poor sleep quality and how participants perceived their relationships, finding that with less sleep people were more angry and therefore more pessimistic about their partnerships. Another study found that just one bad night’s sleep can be damaging to your relationship. The research suggested that the next day there was an increase in relationship conflict, a decrease in empathy, and less conflict resolution. 

Make and Keep Your Couple Friends

Research has shown time and again that friendships are really important to general happiness, and the same goes for partners. According to professors at The University of Maryland Baltimore, being friends with other couples can actually help prop up your own marriage. Research shows that when couples agree on how to spend their time, whether that’s solo or with others, they’re more likely to have a happy relationship. Plus, having healthy couple friends and seeing how they interact can make your own relationship better.

Another study out of Wayne State University found that couples who spend time with other couples socially, especially when they open up on a deeper level, are more likely to have happy and satisfying romantic relationships. So, if your relationship is feeling stale, go out with another couple for a boost. 

“Don’t rely on your partner for everything,” says Drew. “That’s why outside friendships are important because you can generate more play, have different conversations, and normalize some elements of your own relationship.”

Show Some Self-Compassion

How you treat yourself is a key indicator of both how you might treat your partner and how satisfied you are with your relationship, according to this 2024 study. If you experience a failure, are you really hard on yourself? Your self-compassion might not only improve your own happiness, but it could also improve your partner’s, researchers found.

“Address that internal critic because it does interact with how you see the world,” says Drew. “Criticism can erode that good nature, especially when you don’t feel heard. One way to combat criticism is that self-compassion, and focusing on the emotion you’re feeling versus blaming that person.” 

Embrace a Team Mentality

The largest in-depth interview study ever done of people in very long unions, the Cornell Marriage Advice Project, surveyed more than 700 individuals wedded for a total of 40,000 years—and shared a few key findings. One of them was that teamwork makes the dream work. What people learn from working in a team through sports or at work can also be applied to a partner. If one partner has a hard time, it’s also the other partner’s responsibility. 

Having a team mentality is really helpful, agrees Drew. “Because the goal of marriage is not fairness. Nothing is 50/50. There will be times when one of you puts in more effort because you’re good at something and you need to accomplish the goal,” she says. The key is being appreciative of each other so that the person who may be doing more of one type of work doesn’t feel unappreciated. You need to look at how you’re both contributing to the relationship, and it might not be the same.

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