One Commonly Overlooked Ingredient of Relationship Happiness

Many wonder how to be happy in a relationship over a long period of time.  This is a legitimate, rational concern—times change, people change, and relationships change.  So how do you know whether you’ll be happy and stay happy with your partner through all that change?

Before we delve into the often-neglected ingredient of relationship happiness, it’s important to determine whether you’re wondering this because your relationship is constantly in a bad place, because you’re uncertain about the future, or because you’re just looking for ways to better your relationship.

If you’re looking to increase happiness in your relationship because you want to keep your relationship going strong, or because you’ve realized that staying happy with another person over a long period of time is bound to be difficult, read on :)

However, if you’re wondering how to remain happy in a relationship because you’re in one that makes you feel terrible far too often, this article might be more helpful for you in the long run.

Ineffective types of effort to avoid

It’s easy to focus on your partner when it comes to wanting a happier relationship.  For example, in the past I’d tell myself, “I wish he would start _____” or “Everything will be perfect, once he stops _____.”  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t change my exes (at least not for long).  Each time, I only succeeded in becoming more unhappy.

Attempting to change your partner is a very ineffective way to increase the happiness of your relationship.  And it’s not very nice!  How would you like it if someone asked you to change something about yourself?  Fully accepting your partner is key to a successful, lasting relationship.  (If you can’t, you may be in the wrong relationship or need some personal growth.)

Another ineffective effort toward relationship happiness used to be a specialty of mine: attempting to change things that are “wrong” with you.

This is essentially the opposite mindset; rather than believing your relationship will improve if your partner changes, you feel it’s somehow your fault that you’re not as happy as you could be.

I used to keep a journal while dating a couple of my exes (which I eventually threw in the fireplace).  Whenever something went wrong in the relationship, I’d find some aspect of my personality to blame (“I’m too quiet all the time” or “I’m too selfish—I’m not doing enough [and that’s why he doesn’t show me he loves me]”).

I’d try my hardest to change for the other person, but it never worked; it just left me feeling unhappy.

There are a couple problems with attempting to change yourself to improve your relationship.

First, pinpointing what is “wrong” with us, often directs us to a core personality trait.  When this is the case, it’s usually not something that we CAN change about ourselves.

Secondly, having this type of mindset leads us to actively look for reasons to blame ourselves, when the lack of relationship happiness probably has nothing to do with our “shortcomings” in the first place.

Plus, it’s not nice to do this to yourself!  Give yourself more credit and worth, and that will improve your relationship faster than trying to change who you are.

The often overlooked key to happy, healthy relationships

When we look to increase the happiness of our relationship, it can be so easy to forget how important it is to be happy within ourselves.

It’s easy to do things for the relationship or for the other person.  But how can you expect to be happy in a relationship if you neglect yourself?

Happy people are healthier, have less drama in their lives (and relationships), and often embrace growth and change.  Being happy can rub off on your partner and give you the momentum you need to achieve relationship bliss.

But you can’t wave a magic wand and wish yourself into happiness.

Happiness takes effort.  Effort is what it takes to keep your relationship strong; it prevents the need to work hard to repair a weakened relationship.

But where do you even begin?

It’s all about your habits

The other day, I looked down at my legs and realized that I hadn’t shaved in a looong time.   I was dressed like a slob, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt good about my appearance.

I used to dress nicely and fix my hair every day.  As I went about my day, I’d feel good because I made the effort to look presentable.  Lately, I haven’t felt happy about my appearance; it had become a small source of unhappiness.

I then realized that I’d sacrificed a lot of other happiness-inducing habits to keep busy “for the relationship”.  Because of this, I wasn’t feeling as happy as I could be.

I decided to change that.

Habits aren’t easy to form, but when you take an intelligent approach, like Leo Babauta (from Zen Habits) or Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project), you can become successful—and happier—as a result.

I read The Happiness Project a few months back, and was incredibly inspired by the small, everyday ways Rubin found to cultivate happiness within her life.  On her blog, she encourages her readers to strive for happiness themselves by creating their own year-long happiness project.

After noticing my hairy legs a couple weeks ago, I finally decided to put an end to it and start a happiness project.

I began last Monday, and I can honestly say that I’ve already started to feel happier on a regular basis.  And, it’s spilled over into my relationship :)

What a “Happiness Project” is

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project centers on a different resolution each month.  Within the monthly resolution, there are specific actions to take on a regular basis.  By the end of the month, you’ve begun to form habits, which you continue as you delve into the next month’s resolution.

It’s essentially a way to slowly build up positive, happiness-inducing habits without setting yourself up for failure.

Here’s a look at mine:

May: Look Nice

I decided to start with this resolution because it was the area of my life that spurred me to improve my own happiness.  I will shower and dress nicely every day (even if I don’t go out), eat vegetables daily, and start my week out with “Makeup Monday”.

June: Be Strong

I’ve been through many life changes during the past year; I lost my best friend, I moved halfway across the country, made it through an unemployment scare, and I’m about to move yet again .  It’s a lot to handle sometimes, so I’ve resolved to exercise my inner strength by working out 3x a week (to feel strong by being strong) and to reason out each fear/doubt that crosses my mind.

July: Be Helpful

I genuinely like to help others, and I feel good when I do, so I’ve resolved to be helpful more often.  I will donate what I can (such as blood or clothing I don’t wear), clean common areas of the house, and volunteer for something meaningful.

August: Create for Myself

This month especially excites me, because I’ve wanted to let my creative side out for so long.  It’s too easy to consider pursuing passions and hobbies a non-priority, so I’m looking forward to allowing myself to write each morning, start a scrapbook, and get out my camera each week.

September: Be a Friend

This one is another long-overlooked aspect of happiness in my life.  As an introvert, I invest a lot of time into just one or two close friendships, rather than having a large number of friends.  So, when my ex-best friend ended our friendship a year ago, I left my home state without any good friends, and I’ve felt too traumatized to make any new ones.  So, I’ve decided to exercise my friend-making skills by smiling and saying hello to strangers, catching up with old acquaintances, and making someone’s day each week.

October: Organize

It doesn’t make me happy to flounder about my day and forget important dates, but I often do.  So, I’ve resolved to put items back where they belong, meditate each day for focus, and schedule the important things.

November: Show Gratitude

I purposely saved gratitude for the month of Thanksgiving ;)  This resolution draws upon one of Gretchen Rubin’s Twelve Personal Commandments: Act the way I want to feel.  I’ve found this to be true in my life as well, so I’ve decided to apply it in the area of gratitude.  It makes me happy to feel thankful and to show others that they’re appreciated, so I will plan a surprise “thank you”, reciprocate each kindness, and thank God every day.

December: Explore Morality

This resolution may sound silly, but I love striving to be a good person.  I know “right from wrong”, but some aspects of morality aren’t clearly defined in my mind.  This sometimes leaves me feeling guilty.  For example, I have strong inclinations toward conserving the environment, yet I’ve never sat down to consider ways to act accordingly.  So, I throw out tons of trash, buy products that harm the environment, and do other non-green things that make me feel unhappy.  So, I’ve decided to define my morals & values and to act accordingly.

January: Be Bold & Ambitious

I have a self-destructive habit of squashing my own ambitions, so I’ve decided to encourage them instead.  I will start out the New Year by studying fearless individuals for inspiration and beginning to work toward a big dream.

February: Be adventurous

Novelty and thrill add to my happiness, so I’ve resolved to cross an item off my bucket list, pursue a fresh interest, and try new foods.

March: Indulge

I have a hard time allowing myself to indulge, but too often, this causes me to deny myself simple pleasures.  This month, I’ve decided to have a lovely bubble bath each week, and to spend a little money on myself.

April: Exude Confidence

During Gretchen Rubin’s last month, she decided to simply focus on performing her resolutions to “Boot Camp Perfection.”  I decided to tack on one last resolution instead, since I couldn’t choose one to cross off my list.  So, my last month will be dedicated to practicing good posture, choosing to relax around others, and beginning daily affirmations of my strengths and good qualities.  Walking a little taller sounded like a great way to end my happiness project :)

So, how will you improve happiness for yourself and your relationship?  Here are a few ways to get started.

Some actionable steps to take

  • Check out Zen Habits or The Happiness Project and determine what it will take for you to increase your day-to-day happiness.  Here are two great articles to start with: The Spiral of Successful Habits and How to stick to your New Year’s resolutions.
  • Make a plan.  Write down the habit(s) you want to cultivate and make a date to begin.  The sooner you’re able to start, the better; that way you’ll remember to begin when the date arrives.
  • Share your happiness plan below, to give others some ideas.  What habits will you create to increase happiness for yourself and (by extension) your relationship?

Categories: In A Relationship, Practical Advice, Single