Author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn shared her five secrets to what makes a happy marriage, and now she's back with new tips about how couples can survive Valentine's Day while simultaneously improving their relationships for the long haul.
Feldhahn, who has spent years collecting data about what makes — and breaks — couples, shared with TheBlaze five specific considerations every married person needs to know.
Based on her book, “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages,” Feldhahn says these simple steps will help men and women alike get through Valentine's Day -- and their marriages -- emotionally unscathed:
1) Hang Out: Having a solid marriage means regularly taking proactive steps to maintain and improve communication, so it's no surprise that a major key to enjoying Valentine's Day is something couples must engage in on a regular basis: simply hanging out with one another.
Feldhahn says that when men and women learn how to spend time together it actually alleviates some of the pressure that Valentine's Day brings.
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Of the happy relationships she's found in her research, she says, most of the couples spend a lot of down time together. Then, when Valentine's Day rolls around, these individuals are primed and ready to hang out and celebrate.
"The most important way to take pressure off of one big day is to be best friends all other days," she said.
2) Have "Factual Fantasies": Feldhahn says having "factual fantasies" is key, especially considering that many husbands and wives find themselves depressed or discouraged on Valentine's Day.
"What causes unhappiness is expectations that aren't met. You long for or expect something that's very difficult for the other person to deliver," Feldhahn said.
Rather than unrealistic expectations, she encourages couples to have a realistic outlook regarding what a spouse is able -- and will likely -- do to celebrate the day.
"What we found in the happiest couples ... is they've actually learned instead of longing for something that's difficult for their spouse to deliver -- like suddenly the husband becomes a romantic Don Juan -- They've actually changed their expectations slightly to celebrate and appreciate what their spouse can deliver," she said.
3) Keep Score: Many relationship experts say that keeping score can lead to disappointment and negativity -- but Feldhahn says it's actually a good thing.
"The best relationships do keep score -- they just do it differently," she said. "They keep score of all the things their spouse is giving, not what they're not giving."
Instead of focusing on disappointments, these happy couples have trained themselves to look at all the ways their significant other is giving and helping. They also have a tendency to focus on the positive, even when there's reason not to.
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"They would say things like, 'Maybe he thinks I'm a slob and I think he can't be on time to save his life, but we totally know that we've hit the jackpot with each other,'" Feldhahn said. "There's this sense of, 'Look at what he does do ... he can't be on time to save his life, because he's working 70 hours per week."
It's essentially giving the benefit of the doubt, while also finding the reason behind some possibly negative personal attributes.
4) Be Ready for the Aftermath of Valentine's Day: There are times that disappointment does happen, and it's important to address it.
"If there's something that's frustrating, the goal isn't to sit there with crossed arms and go, 'You can't do anything right!'" Feldhahn said. "The goal is to move yourself and partner into a position where it gets better and better."
So that means properly and calmly addressing the issue with your partner. But before one even gets to that point, Feldhahn says, communication before Valentine's Day -- or any day, for that matter -- can actually help set a standard for what's expected.
Rather than just "brutal honesty," she says it's important to speak honestly, respectfully and with kindness.
"So let's just say that your Valentine's Day wasn't quite what you wished it was, [that you had] an expectation that wasn't what happened," Feldhahn said. "It's really important to approach it with kindness rather than brutal honesty. Women don't realize that men are powerfully motivated by praise and affirmation and appreciation and they're demotivated by what they see as criticism."
5) Have a Signal: There's always the chance that a couple has failed to properly prepare for or handle disappointments, regardless of when they unfold.
If feelings are hurt, expectations haven't been met and fighting unfolds, Feldhahn says there's a tool that can help couples get past it. After conducting years of research, she realized that many of the happy couples she has interacted with have a "signal."
As strange as it might sound, Feldhahn said they have a question or action that they will engage in -- something only the two of them know about -- to help diffuse situations.
This private signal could be something as simple as asking, "Are we OK?"
One happy couple she interviewed said they regularly touch pinkies while arguing. The simple move lets both individuals know that, despite disagreeing, they're still "OK."