There are four approaches for trying to achieve happiness in a marriage, researchers have found. Some couples are together primarily because they believe that their relationships provides external benefits to each of them. The classic example would be partners who are together for financial reasons, working hard and forgoing time together now so that one day – when they’ve got enough money – they can be happy. But being too focused on the future ultimately backfires for these couples because their love withers and dies while they’re waiting to be happy.
At the other end of the continuum are those couples who base their happiness mainly on how much immediate gratification it gives them. People in these marriages make the mistake of believing that if one or both of them get their needs met in the moment they’ll be happy. But pleasures derived from activities such as spending and sex are short-lived. And often there’s one person who gets what they want and another who gives it to them, creating resentments that eventually ruin the relationship.
The third type of couples seeking happiness in their marriages do so by trying to fulfill other people’s expectations of them. They married because their friends were doing so, and they picked someone they thought would please their parents and be popular among their friends. They stay together because it’s the “right thing to do,” but they don’t feel any real bond between with their spouse. They frequently feel lonely as they drift along in a marriage that lacks any meaningful connection.
The fourth category consists of people who’ve learned how to generate authentic happiness in their relationship. They came together for many of the same reasons as the other groups: They were dreaming of a secure future. They, too, experienced the initial euphoria of being in a passionate romantic relationship. And they very much wanted to be accepted into their social circle of family and friends. However, they didn’t rely on any one of these approaches as their primary source of satisfaction.
While happy couples also work hard, they make time to talk every day. They accept that the initial sexual attraction subsides as familiarity sets in. However, because they become familiar with a wider variety of one another’s needs, they’re able to demonstrate loving behaviors across many different dimensions. Their desire to be validated by receiving approval from their social network and praise from their partner evolves into a desire to be known for who they are at their core.
Our core self is comprised of our character traits – those principles by which we truly live our life. Character consists of our deepest values and the core beliefs that drive our decision making. These are not the ideals that we proclaim to the world to be the standards by which we live, but the choices and behaviors that our partner actually experiences.
Love builds and broadens over time when both partners are willing to gradually reveal their innermost character – their beliefs, fears, hopes, desires, and even their dark side. The process of peeling back the layers of our personality is perpetual. There’s always more that can be discovered about a person as we learn and grow through the various ages and stages of our life. Dreams change, passions appear, values are forged, and concerns emerge. A loving relationship that provides the safety and security required for partners to reveal what’s most meaningful to each of them remains intriguing, invigorating, and inspiring.
Unhappy relationships are derailed by the doom loop of criticism, defensiveness, disrespect, and distancing from one another. Negative emotions displace the positive when people neglect their connection. Many couples have the mistaken notion that having fallen in love means that they’ll live happily ever after. But if they landed their dream job, would they think that they wouldn’t need to work hard in order to be successful?
Happy couples do work hard to cultivate their connection long after the honeymoon is over. They build intimacy by coming to know each other’s core needs, and then engaging in activities that bring pleasure and make a meaningful difference in each other’s lives.
The most important component of a long lasting loving relationship involves partners coming to know what each person cares about the most. They build their connection through ever deeper conversations in which they discover each other’s strengths. By knowing each other’s innermost character, they bring out the best in one another in order to weather storms and fulfill their life dreams.