7 Things Happy Couples Do Differently

This article was originally published on February 9, 2016.

There’s no exact formula for a great relationship. In fact, all relationships are made of two people from different backgrounds and experiences, who are doing their best to make it work. But some couples do it better — way better. “The happiest couples all have one thing in common: They understand that they each have faults,“ says Fran Walfish, PhD, a relationship psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, CA, and co-host of Sexbox on WE TV. “But they don’t let their partner’s imperfections distract from the bigger picture.” The closest couples also have different quirks, practices, and rules that make their relationship rise above the rest. Click ahead to use their truths to make you and your partner closer than ever.

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
They Don’t Wait For Valentine’s Day To Celebrate
Which makes for a better relationship, sticking by your partner’s side through the loss of a pet or taking him out for a drink after he scored a promotion? Believe it or not, it’s the latter. While standing by your partner through hard times also scores you points, sharing in her joy is what makes your bond even stronger, according to a study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Be on the lookout for big and small reasons to celebrate: He won his fantasy football season, she finished a 5K in record time, or you both put together a piece of Ikea furniture without yelling or tears. Or go with this advice from Amy Sumner of Ohio, who’s been married for eight years: “We celebrate the ninth of every month, since we met on the ninth, and got married on the ninth. We’ll do cards or go out on a date — it gives us a constant reason to celebrate!”
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Dinner And A Movie Isn’t In Their Date Rotation
If you’ve ever observed another couple eating silently at a restaurant — and subsequently vowed that you’ll never be that couple — you know the truth: Date nights don’t necessarily make your relationship better. What does: Doing new and exciting things together. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system — the same circuits that are ignited in early romantic love — flooding it with the feel good chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, according to research from The State University of New York at Stony Brook. Think outside the old dinner and a movie box: check out living social or groupon for cool experiences, or plan surprise dates or date trips for each other. According to Stephanie Tan from NYC, who’s been with her boyfriend for six years: “We escape on day trips to nearby towns, and every year, we take one big trip. We love to navigate foreign spaces and try food we can hardly pronounce. It helps to grow our perspective as a couple — and it ensures our relationship never gets boring.”
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
They Keep Tabs On Each Other
The idea of keeping score can tank a relationship if it’s done the wrong way. (Think: He didn’t take out the garbage so I’m not folding his laundry.) But counting up the good stuff your partner does — whether he filled your car with gas, or she surprised you with tickets to an amazing concert — is one of the quickest ways to take your relationship from good to great. “Research tells us that negative interactions have five times the emotional impact as positive interactions, so building a reserve of positivity is crucial,” says Scott Haltzman, MD, relationship psychiatrist and author of The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity. According to Anna Stanin of Hoboken, NJ, “I have a journal next to my bed and I always write down the cute things my partner does. Whenever I get mad at him, I read it, and he doesn’t seem that bad anymore.” Plus, the more good you look for, the more you find.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
They Communicate In Tongues
It could be a secret look that signals “Let’s get out of here.” Or maybe you have a secret code word for sex, à la “The bunny needs a carrot.” The more insider language a couple uses — including silly nicknames, made up terms, and requests for sex, the higher their relationship satisfaction, according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. “I think one thing that sets our marriage apart is that we have a secret language full of inside jokes, movie quotes, and song lyrics,” says Carrie Krawiec, 34, from Bloomfield Hills, MI, who has been married for five years. “It's a symbol of how we uniquely understand each other.”
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
They Argue — But They Also Make Up
You said things you shouldn’t have, your partner used some brutal words, too, and now you’re both left licking your wounds. While all couples fight, how they move forward after a fight is more predictive of a successful and happy relationship than how often they fight, or what they argue about, according to research from the Gottman Institute. “Once you’ve hashed out an issue, couples in great relationships make the active decision to keep no record of wrongs,” Dr. Walfish says. So say you’re fighting about his mother’s meddling or whatever. When you’ve come to some sort of compromise, you essentially promise to stop letting it linger in your mind, and vow not to bring it up during future arguments. Oh, and make-up sex helps, too.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
They Keep Each Other On Their Toes
Bringing home your partner’s favorite Redbox pick after work. Tucking a sexy note into his jacket pocket. All of these little surprises can keep your brain releasing those same can’t-get-enough-of-him chemicals of when you first met. “One study asked couples to walk back and forth holding hands, while a different group had to complete an obstacle course with their wrists and legs tied to each other,” Dr. Haltzman says. “The latter reported feeling more connected afterwards, because that element of surprise releases dopamine, which makes you form a closer bond.”

Take a tip from Jenn, 29, of NYC, and her fiancée, who’ve been together for three and a half years: “I leave notes in her lunch box or on her computer occasionally. She will surprise me by having the apartment clean when I come home from church or a Saturday working. We both randomly will bring flowers home as well, or another random gift," Jenn says. "Cleaning is something we all hate doing, but it's especially hard on my wrists as I've had several surgeries. Coming home to a clean apartment takes a weight off my shoulders and makes me know that she is thinking about me. It allows us to then spend more relaxing time together versus doing chores. Little surprises makes me feel loved and appreciated.”
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
They Have Sex At Least Once A Week
Ask 10 different couples how often they have sex and you’ll get 10 different answers. But one thing is for sure: Sex matters. The more sexually satisfied a woman is, the happier her relationship, according to a study in the Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, and other studies show the same is true for men (duh). “During sex, the brain releases oxytocin, a bonding hormone that makes you feel more bonded to your partner,” Dr. Haltzman says. The magic number: Once a week — at least. Couples who do the deed weekly had 44% more positive feelings toward their partner than those who do it less often, and those who do it every few days are 55% more likely to report higher levels of happiness.