Every relationship has its rough patches. But what really matters is how you and your partner interact on a regular basis.
As a Harvard-trained psychologist, I’ve found that the happiest couples don’t avoid conflict — they navigate it by speaking to each other with appreciation and respect. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of marriages end due to poor communication and an unwillingness to change.
So if you use any of these phrases with your partner, your relationship is more successful than most others:
1. “I appreciate your effort.”
It’s tempting to become overly focused on things you don’t like about your partner, and to point them out at every chance you get.
But it’s important to highlight the good in their actions. Happy couples express gratitude for each other’s efforts. It’s a great way to make everyone feel valued.
- “I appreciate that you work so hard to support our family.”
- “I’m grateful that you take the kids to school because it helps me get things done in the morning.”
The healthiest couples don’t just love each other, they like each other, too.
Loving someone is an intense feeling of affection; liking is about seeing them for who they are and acknowledging the attributes you enjoy about them.
- “I like that you are so passionate about staying healthy.”
- “I like how devoted you are to your hobbies.”
We all have different upbringings, vulnerabilities, values and beliefs that shape how we think relationships should work.
If your partner reacts to a situation in a way that you don’t understand, telling them that you want to know them better is key to resolving conflict and bonding at a deeper level.
- “I don’t know why this is so upsetting to you. Please help me see your perspective.”
- “I want to work through this together, and I need to understand you better to do that.”
Disagreements are inevitable, but it’s important to still support each other through active listening.
You have to be willing to suspend your desire to be “right” or to get your point across — long enough to hear and empathize with your partner’s perspective.
- “I’ll stop talking now and really try to listen to your point of view.”
- “I want to hear your side of things, even if we ultimately disagree.”
When things don’t go right or as planned, healthy couples know that both partners play a part in the situation.
Taking responsibility for our role in those conflicts — and genuinely apologizing — is critical to repairing rifts.
- “I didn’t communicate my feelings in a respectful way to you, and I’m sorry for that.”
- “I didn’t like the way you acted last night, but I also need to apologize for lashing out.”
6. “I forgive you. Can you forgive me?”
Forgiveness is hard. It requires being vulnerable, letting go of something that caused you pain, and changing your feelings towards your partner.
But studies have shown that couples who practice forgiveness are more likely to enjoy longer, more satisfying relationships.
- “I know we can’t change the past, so I’m actively trying to let it go and move forward.”
- “I made a mistake and I’m trying to forgive myself. I hope you can forgive me, too.”
Being in a relationship is a choice. Reassuring your partner that you’re still choosing to be with them and to work through challenges will help create a sense of safety and stability.
- “Even when times are tough, I still choose to be with you.”
- “I’m here and I want to make this work with you. We’re a team.”
If you can find humor (or playfully tease each other) during tense moments, your relationship might be stronger than you think.
The happiest couples are able to break tension and recalibrate the mood by finding room for an authentic smile, silly banter or a lighthearted joke.
- “We should get some fresh air. Want to do something fun today?”
- “I know I’m a lot sometimes. Let’s take a breather from the tough topics and watch a comedy.”
This one is simple but always worth reminding. Verbally expressing your romantic love for one another keeps the relationship alive. And when you say it, make sure you truly mean it.
Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, is a board-certified psychologist and author of “Letting Go of Your Ex.” She specializes in marriages, love addiction and breakups, and received her clinical training at Harvard Medical School. She has written almost 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and delivered more than 75 presentations on the psychology of relationships. Follow her on Twitter @DrCortneyWarren.