You know those super happy couples practically skipping down the street holding hands, having the best time of their lives right there on Classon Avenue? What is the secret to a happy relationship? How, year in and year out, do they maintain the same levels of dopamine-fueled happiness, those soaring levels of serotonin that lead to frenzied happy couplehood, those nonstop oxytocin rushes that come after a good snuggle session? First off, no one is happy all the time. But there are some habits that the happiest of couples do have, and it's never too late to adopt them in your own relationship.
Marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin has a lot to say about this subject. "I'm big on couples having more fun," the CEO of Group Therapy Associates in Haymarket, Virginia, says. "It's right up my alley since my book is all about date night." Her book, The Date Deck, is all about the idea that date night is not just some frilly idea someone came up with once upon a time — it's actually a method to deepen your communication with your partner, and appreciate them more. But happy couples don't just have fun date nights — it's a whole ideology, a way at looking at a relationship that's a lot less "What's in it for me?" and a lot more "What do I have to bring to this relationship, and how can I enjoy it more?" Here are 10 things happy couples do in their relationships, according to Boykin.
1. They Are Intentional
Sometimes it's easy to wake up and have the best day ever. But other times it's necessary to actually plan a day of adventure or a fun evening out — you can't always expect that that a good time will come knocking of its own accord. "We often have a romantic notion of fun — that it will just happen spontaneously if we are with the right person," says Boykin. "And while that's true some of the time, in a long-term relationship it requires a conscious effort to make fun a priority."
Though pizza in front of the TV is totally permissible and can actually be incredibly fun sometimes, this means that couples who are a laugh a minute probably value having a good time, and don't miss a chance to take five minutes to tickle each other or wrestle or watch a silly YouTube video or whatever it may be. "Life is busy, and when you've been with someone a long time it is very easy to get caught up in a routine that is mundane and familiar," Boykin says. "Couples who have fun together do so because they've made an intentional effort to create moments of fun and playfulness on a regular basis." So don't assume that your pals who have perma-smiles plastered all over their faces woke up like that. Or if they did, it happened because they chose to make time for those smiles.
2. They've Built A Friendship
We all want a lover, but here's hoping the one with whom you sleep (and with whom you sleep) is also one of your best friends. "Fun and romance definitely should go hand in hand, but sometimes you just want to have fun by kicking back and relaxing with a friend," says Boykin. "Your partner should be one of those friends."
The friendship, Boykin says, will lead to letting the good times roll. "If you have not cultivated a friendship beyond the romantic and sexual connection you share, fun can be challenging sometimes," she says. "What happens when there's a dip in your sex life or someone is slacking in the romance department? Friendship is the foundation for long-lasting fun together." If you're hanging with your friend all the time, there's a better chance you'll feel comfortable to relax and have a good time. Plus, a partner who is also your pal will up the ante in the bedroom, she says: Friendship is "also the secret to keeping the sex and romance going strong." What's more fun than hooking up with one of your besties?
3. They Appreciate Each Others' Quirks
If you're with someone who loves you more for your weird penchant for eating cheese at three in the morning or for your inexplicable bouts of speaking with a bad British accent, you have a better chance of having a good time with them. "Being with someone who doesn't just tolerate your weird habits and pet peeves but actually enjoys them as part of your uniqueness is a gift that makes every day a little more fun," says Boykin. "When we feel celebrated for all our quirks and oddities, it is so much easier to let your hair down and really have fun." And really, yell-singing TLC into a karaoke microphone is not only quirky, it's also quite fun. "You can let go of being self-conscious and just be your fun-loving, care-free self, however silly, strange, or quirky that may be." And trust me: I can't speak for the rest of you, but speaking for myself, that self is pretty damn silly, strange and quirky.
4. They Know How To Bounce Back From A Fight
Here's the bad news: "No matter how much fun you have together, you're are bound to also have conflict and disagreements," says Boykin. The good news is that you can deal with these spats with grace. "The secret is not learning how to avoid this tensions, but rather learning to bounce back from them effectively," Boykin says. "Couples who have a lot of fun are able to fight, apologize and repair any damage they've done to the relationship effectively."
So let go of the argument that broke out this morning, and know that your partner loves you. Fights are not fun, but they're also not the end of the world, and should be treated as such. If you can let your fights stay where they belong — in the past — then you stand a better shot at having a good time with your partner now that you're no longer disagreeing. "If you find yourself struggling to feel close after every disagreement, it may be time to pick up a good relationship book, or better yet, schedule a couple of sessions with a therapist or a couples retreat to learn some important skills," Boykin says.
5. They Are Adventurous
Whatever your definition of adventure may be, avoid falling into a rut to ensure a good time in your relationship. "Whether your idea of adventure is trekking through the rainforest or trying a new Thai restaurant down the block doesn't really matter," Boykin says. "What fun couples know is that adventure is about being open to new and challenging experiences. Embrace the opportunity to do something that pushes you out of your comfort zone as a pleasurable experience and you'll find your relationship immediately more fun and less stressful." Although it can be tempting to do the same-old, same-old, couples who have fun try new things together. This could be as simple as eating dinner on the terrace instead of at the table tonight. Try it! It'll be fun!
6. They Know How To Compromise
This one is a biggie. In the grand scheme, the question of "Would you rather be happy or right?" should be filed in the same folder as the question, "Would you rather do what you want to do, or try something else?" This is especially important while traveling, but it's even true when you're deciding what to order from Seamless. "What's fun for me isn't always going to be fun for you, but smart couples know how to find the joy in watching each other have fun," says Boykin. "Many of the fun experiences in a relationship come from giving in to each other from time to time. Similar to the need for adventure, it's crucial to be open to the things your partner finds fun and enjoyable, even if you aren't that interested." So tour the castle, skinny-dip in the lake, go to the Japanese restaurant when you're craving a burger. Couples who say yes to each others' yens are more likely to wind up having fun in the process. "These couples know that the most fun happens when they are together making each other happy," Boykin says.
7. They Make Play As Important As Work
"You have to pay the bills and walk the dog, but you also have to make time daily to be silly and playful together," says Boykin. Making time for play can be as simple as paying the bills while blasting some Jme or walking the dog hand in hand with your partner and talking about your day (or telling silly stories). "Adulthood is busy and demanding — work, school, kids, family, housework — there's a lot of work to be done," Boykin says. "It's very easy to relegate fun to a few hours on the weekend after all your work and chores and obligations are taken care of."
Don't do that, Boykin says: "Couples who have the most fun have made time for play as high a priority as changing the oil in the car or finishing up a project at the office," she says. They make a commitment to choose fun and playfulness with each other over work at least some of the time." Next time you have the chance to make a few extra bucks over the weekend instead of spending time with your partner, see what it feels like to decline the work in favor of play. As Harold Kushner said, “No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”
8. They Have Fun With Other People Too
Even if you're having the funnest of all funs with your fun AF partner, you probably need to give it a rest from time to time. "As great as it is to be in a fun couple, it's not fair or realistic to expect that all your fun will happen with the one your love," Boykin says. "We are multi-faceted beings, and that means we need to have multiple outlets for fun." This can look a lot of different ways, and you don't necessarily need to ditch your partner to incorporate some other people's energy from time to time. But it is important that you don't rely on them for being your only source of entertainment.
"Couples who have a lot of fun together also know how to have fun with family and friends," Boykin says. "They go on double dates, host family dinners, and plan girls' night/guys' night out with their friends." Even if you go to a boring party, if you're with your love and having fun together, you can always talk about how bad it was on the way home. "Having fun in a group, whether its 10 of you or three of you, meets our need to be social and keeps things fresh in our relationship," says Boykin. And keeping things fresh is a surefire way to have fun!
9. They Lower Their Expectations of "Fun"
Paging the Kim Kardashians in the house: "If fun only means fabulous concerts, delicious wine tastings or dinners at the hottest restaurants, you are going to end up exhausted and eventually disappointed," Boykin says. "Fun couples have much lower expectations of what it means to have fun." This includes but is not limited to just enjoying your partner for who she or he is, without expecting the lavish bells and whistles that some romantic comedies would have us believe relationships are all about.
"Laughing over a movie, playing a board game at home, lying in bed reading your favorite book or magazine, or just going for a walk can all be really fun," says Boykin. "Too often, couples raise the stakes when it comes to having fun as a couple. They expect it to look a certain way or include only specific activities, and when these don't happen, not only don't you have fun, you find yourself feeling very disappointed and even resentful," says Boykin. It's never healthy to expect fun with your partner to look only one particular way, or make a mental list of specific activities that quality as fun. Instead, Boykin suggests, "Lower the bar. Remember when eating a pizza and doing nothing on Saturday afternoon was fun? Go back to that and you'll discover what fun-loving couples already know: Sometimes the most fun thing is to just be together." Look forward to those moments you spend with your partner, even if they happen every day.
10. They're Affectionate
Can't leave this one out. For a good time, call 1-800-YOUR-BOO. "Some of the most fun things to do as a couple are making out, holding hands, and having sex," says Boykin. "Don't forget that physical intimacy is meant to be fun too." Super fun! And if that's not the case, don't just push that little issue under the carpet. "If the affection isn't fun, it's time to have a serious conversation, and maybe call in some professional help," Boykin says.
An exceptionally fun afternoon could be spent entirely in bed, and fun couples know all about this. "Couples who have fun together know how to keep the playful and light-hearted aspects of intimacy at the forefront," Boykin says. "They reach out for each other without constant expectations or pressure for each touch or moment of affection to mean more. They know that just experiencing the closeness between them can lead to all kinds of other fun."
Fun, flirty, NSA sex shouldn't be reserved solely for Tinder users (though that might be the only perk of using Tinder, and I don't want to encroach on your territory too hard, Tinderers). Sexting is a good way to get a little fun in the mix. The bottom line? Never take your partner for granted. The couples having the most fun out there know this is all a gift, and we have more fun when we take time to appreciate the things we love about each other.
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