There's no magic wand couples can wave to be happy, it's hard work that does it, say relationship expert Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt.
Says the man dubbed "Oprah's Marriage Whisperer", "We all want a happy relationship. Few of us have one. I personally know of only a few couples who are genuinely happy, and their satisfaction with their relationship is a result of many years of hard work.
"That is the magic word: work. That is what a happy relationship requires, but it is a very unpopular word."
Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt have developed 10 simple steps for couples to help in the journey to a relationship of their dreams.
The pair has spent the past 30 years helping thousands of couples learn how to recapture that magical connection and strengthen and sustain it for a lasting and loving relationship.
In the process they co-created Imago Relationship Therapy, which is practiced by more than 2000 therapists in 30 countries.
Imago first came to public attention through the New York Times best seller, Getting the Love You Want, co-written by Hendrix and his wife LaKelly Hunt (a famous philanthropist in her own right).
Absolutely no criticism!
All criticism, even "constructive criticism" not only fails to get us what we want but it's a form of self-abuse since the traits we criticise in our partners are often projections of unpleasant truths about ourselves.
Instead of criticising, explore why a particular trait in your partner bothers you so much. For example, perhaps him wanting "too much sex" is really about your own sexual inhibitions.
Accept that your partner is not you
We all understand - at least on the surface - that our partner is a separate human being. But deep down we often see and treat him/her as extensions of ourselves. Practice seeing and accepting your partner as someone with different perceptions, feelings, and experiences that are equally valid as your own.
Close all exits
Identify activities that you engage in that become an escape from the day-to-day intimacy of the partnership (any activity, thought, or feeling that decreases or avoids emotional or physical involvement with your partner). Exits can be functional (car-pooling, work, taking care of kids), motivated (watching TV, reading, sports, hobbies), and/or catastrophic (emotional or physical affairs, addictions). All exits, however, deplete the emotional reserves in a partnership.
Use "I" language
Own your experience by saying how you feel rather than blaming your partner. For example, "I feel bad when ..." rather than "You make me feel bad when ..."
Give and receive unconditionally
Offer gifts with no strings attached. The unconscious receives only unconditional gifts. It does not accept a "you rub my back and I'll rub yours" attitude. Similarly, learn to accept gifts. Often we feel unworthy of receiving compliments from our partner and reject it. Instead of saying, "You don't really mean that I'm beautiful/handsome/smart," say "Thank you. It means a lot to me that you feel that way."
Put play on your priority list
Make a list of high-energy activities you would like to do for fun with your partner. Write down as many ideas as you can think of that you are currently doing, that you did in the early stages of your relationship and activities you would like to engage in. They should be activities that create deep laughter and/or that involve physical movement and deep breathing. Make a commitment to enjoy a playful activity at least once a week.
Amplify the positive resources in your relationship
Flood your partner with compliments. On a regular basis, tell your partner what you love about him or her. Talk about his/her physical characteristics ("I love your eyes"), character traits ("You are really intelligent"), behaviours ("I love that you make coffee every morning for me"), global affirmations ("I am so happy I married you").
Learn couple's dialogue
The most important and challenging step to becoming a conscious partner is changing the way you communicate. Imago Dialogue uses three basic techniques - mirroring, validating, and empathising - to fortify the connection between partners. Check to make sure you understand what your partner is saying (mirroring), indicate that what your partner says makes sense, even if you don't agree (validating) and recognise the partner's feelings when s/he tells a story or expresses an opinion (empathising).
Make dialogue a way of life
Dialogue will not only improve the way you communicate with your partner, it will improve the relations with your children, and with everyone you come in contact with. Practise dialogue until it becomes a habit and a way of life.
See your relationship as a journey
A committed partnership can become someone's worst nightmare, but through intentionality and commitment, a marriage can also be a spiritual journey. If you married because you chose to marry, you are with the right person - especially if you feel incompatible. See your partner as the person who holds the blueprint for your journey to wholeness.
* Harville Hendrix will be holding a series of couples' counselling workshops and public lectures in New Zealand in March. Public lectures in Auckland (March 1,2), Wellington (March 3) and Christchurch (March 13); workshops in Auckland and Wellington (March 11-13 and March 18-19). See relationships.co.nz for more information or FB relationships matter.