Eight Habits of Healthy Couples

My newest book, When Divorce Is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love looks at the eight habits that healthy couples cultivate in their relationship and describes, step-by-step how couples who are struggling can develop those habits in their relationship.

There’s a lot of confusion about what separates happy couples from unhappy couples.  The book explores some of those myths.  For instance, you might be surprised to know that happy couples argue about as often as unhappy couples and are about as good at solving problems!  The real difference is how happy couples work hard to take care of each other when they’re arguing and also the ways they attend to both their relationship and their own emotional health with they are not in conflict.  Research shows that these eight habits that distinguish happy couples can be learned by any couple regardless of their background.  We know now that if a couple is willing to do the work to learn and practice these eight habits, virtually ANY marriage can be saved.

Do you and your spouse practice the Healthy Marriage Habits that can help you get the most out of your marriage?  Take a look.

1.  Rituals of Connection-– Happy couples have regular rituals for working, playing, talking, and praying together.  They carve out at some time each day to make sure they do something related to these four categories.  Rituals of connection form the skeleton of the relationship.  These rituals guarantee that the couple will prioritize their relationship and have the time they need to share experiences, relate on a deeper level to each other, and build a shared life together.

2.  Emotional Rapport & Benevolence– Happy couples make a point of being intentional about looking for ways to make each other’s days a little easier or more pleasant.  They turn toward each other in times of stress (instead of isolating) and actively look for ways to lighten each other’s burden even when they don’t feel like it.

3.  Self-Regulation–Happy couples are good at monitoring their emotional temperatures.  They know when they need to take a break from a stressful conversation and they know what to do to get themselves back to a calm and empathetic mindset so that the next round of discussions will go better.  They don’t blame their partner for their own emotional reactions.  Instead, they learn from the times they lose it and figure out how to do better the next time.

4. A Positive Intention Frame--Happy couples realize that most offenses in marriage are due to miscommunication or misunderstanding.  They realize that their partner gets nothing out of being intentionally offensive.  They try to understand the true intention or need behind the offense and find more respectful way to meet that need or intention.

5. Caretaking in Conflict–Happy couples know that the most important thing in problem-solving isn’t actually solving the problem.  The MOST important thing in problem-solving is taking care of each other so that they can solve the problem together.  Happy couples work to make sure each knows the other’s concerns are important.  They also look for ways to reassure each other that they can get through any difficulties as long as they stick together.

6.  Mutual Respect, Accountability, and Boundaries–Happy couples respect each other, which means that they are willing to listen and learn from each other even when it is hard.  They don’t have to understand why something is important to their partner.  It is enough that it is important.  They accept each other’s boundaries and work to accommodate each other’s needs and preferences even when those needs or preferences don’t necessarily make sense.

7.  Reviewing and Learning from Mistakes–Happy couples know how to learn from their disagreements.  They are able to go back over arguments and offenses in a way that helps them learn to do better next time.  They don’t blame and attack each other or endlessly debate what “really” happened last time.  They focus on what they need to do to handle similar situations better in the future.

8.  Seeking Healthy Support–Happy couples know when they need to learn new skills and they know where to turn for appropriate support.  They don’t complain about their marriage to friends who will simply confirm their biases.  They look for opportunities to develop new skills even when things are going well, and if they need help, they seek it either from mature couples who know and love them both, or marriage-friendly professionals who are qualified to teach the skills they need to address their particular struggles.

How’d you do?  Every couple has areas they are best at and areas they could improve in. If you would like to learn how to heal or strengthen your relationship by cultivating these skills, check out When Divorce is Not An Option:  How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.   You’ll discover a step-by-step plan for making your marriage everything you know it can be!

Or, if you feel you need additional support, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute (740-266-6461) to learn more about how our Catholic tele-counseling practice can help you transform your marriage, family or personal life!

image: Petr Jilek / Shutterstock.com

Dr. Gregory Popcak


Dr. Gregory Popcak is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems.

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  • George Cameron

    As someone who came within one month of divorce, I agree with all of the above as good practical advice, but I would like to share some things that work for us. Make frequent use of the sacraments, especially Mass together. I once heard that the most intimate thing a couple can do together is to pray together, and I agree 100%. Make a date to go to Adoration or pray the Rosary together. Yes, it takes effort, but it’s worth it, because, let’s face it, it’s not easy living with someone and we all need lots of Grace to make it work! 🙂 If God is the center of your marriage, it’ll go a lot easier!

  • Susan

    Thank you and good read. One of the fruits of the synod is getting people talking about marriage. My own marriage nearly collapsed but happy to say we survived it. On my part, it took the Lord’s help in the form of heroic virtue to forgive what you don’t think your capable of. As well as, when you are pointing your finger, you have three pointing back at you. A painfully bitter sweet time I am ever so thankful of. Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!

  • Laura Y.

    Glad to hear you and your wife made it through, George!

  • noelfitz

    Thanks for the article and the comments.

    I tried to check how I would do on each of the points, I would say ‘could do better’ for each one. But I really think dividing couples into happy and unhappy couples is an oversimplification. Perhaps we all are somewhere on a spectrum.

    Perhaps it is best to work on the relationship, and hope for the best.

  • cmthen09

    What if your significant other is agnostic/atheist?

  • Margaret

    I am not married yet, but I can attest to the power of prayer in my Parents’ union. I noticed that every point stated made it clear that the couple had to make conscious efforts to keep their love aflame! Love may be spontaneous, as our present day romance makes it sound. But Marriage must constantly be worked at! May God give us all the strength for this journey!

  • jenny

    thank you..

  • RandomRambler

    From my personal experience … run. I mean BEFORE you get married. There are still believing men out there.

  • LP

    “…’til death do us part.” Way to hang in there, George!!! 🙂