By: Lisa Kift, MFT
As a couple's therapist, I've
seen a myriad of relationships styles. People who come in for
counseling are clearly looking to change something they see
problematic in their partnership. The problems range from the
relatively benign tweaks in communication to serious pain and trust
violations due to infidelity and all sorts of issues in between.
Filtering through all of this, I've identified ten characteristics
of successful relationships. These qualities are integral parts of a
healthy relationship foundation and I believe increase the chances
of weathering the storms that life inevitably dishes out.
The ten characteristics are as follows and are in no particular
1) Friendship: Couples who have a strong friendship have
staying power. They not only love each other but genuinely like each
other as people. They enjoy hanging out together. They might even
consider each other their "best friend."
2) Humor: Partners who can make each other laugh tend to be
good at de-escalating conflicts when they do arise. It's the great
mood lightener. I've noticed the use of funny nicknames can be an
indicator of great fondness for one another. The names often stem
from a "you had to be there" moment from the beginning of their
3) Communication: As obvious as this may seem, many couples
are not very good at it. Those who are able to openly express their
feelings in an emotionally safe environment typically deal with
situations as they come up and avoid burying frustrations which
always have a way of coming out at some point.
4) Chore Sharing: Those who divvy up the household or
parenting responsibilities in a way that is mutually agreed upon way
are less likely to hold resentments about what they perceive as
"unfair." Each participates (albeit maybe begrudgingly) and both
contribute to the relationship in this way.
5) Sexual Intimacy: Couples who have their sexual needs met
or at least have negotiated a reasonable compromise if their levels
of need aren't compatible, feel taken care of by the other. Some are
highly active, engaging in lovemaking multiple times a week and
others are content with far less. There is no "right" or "wrong"
amount. However, often times a negotiation is needed to make sure no
one feels neglected by the other.
6) Affection: Partners who stay in physical contact in some
way throughout the day have appeared to be the happiest ones. These
moments don't need to necessarily lead to sexual intimacy but are
rather easy ways to say, "I love you," without the words. These
moments can be invaluable, especially these days when everyone seems
to be racing around to get "somewhere." Whether it's a hug, kiss,
swat on the rear, tussle of the hair or a sit on the lap, these acts
of affection keep couples connected when life gets crazy.
7) No "Horsemen of the Apocalypse:" This is a term coined by
a famous couples researcher named John Gottman (The Gottman
Institute -) who claims to be able to predict divorce with
incredible accuracy. His "four horsemen of the apocalypse" are
criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. His research
has shown that couples who demonstrate a high level of these in
their relationships are in big trouble.
8) Mutual and Separate Friends: Partners who socialize with
other couples and also maintain separate friendships have greater
balance in regards to honoring themselves as individuals, within the
relationship. This leads to more self satisfaction which translates
to relationship satisfaction.
9) Reliability: Most of us want follow-through with our
friendships and our partners. If couples do what they say and say
what they do, they create an atmosphere of comfort in knowing their
words mean something to the other.
10) Relationship Vision: It's interesting the number of
couples I've seen who don't seem to have the big picture of their
relationship in mind. Where do they see themselves in ten year? What
are their relationship goals? Couples who have created a
relationship vision for themselves know where they're going as
they've planned it together. They get joy out of reaching for their
goals as a team and are less likely to be derailed by surprises down
Lisa Brookes Kift is a Marriage & Family Therapist working with
individuals and couples in San Diego, California. She is also the
author of other articles on relationships and mental health issues
which can be found on her article blog titled, "Notes from a
Therapist's Chair, at
from a Therapist's Chair. For more information about Lisa's
therapy practice go to