Your relationship upgrade

Do not take your existing relationship for granted. Get it up to date with these nine funky research-based tips!

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A good relationship with our partners is not the only positive relationship that we aspire to in our lives. We want to feel connected with our children, work in harmony with our co-workers and experience joy with our friends… Nevertheless, the vast majority of us wish to have a constructive, rewarding and meaningful relationship with our loved one.

And research certainly supports this feeling. Several studies show that people living in fulfilling and committed relationships have lower divorce rates, longer lives, better immune functioning, are more productive, and more satisfied with their lives (Meunier & Baker, 2012).

Therefore, upgrading the relationship with your partner is for sure worthwhile! This raises a fundamental question: ‘How? How can we do it?’

Without doubt, each couple is unique, but there are three key dimensions to build a close and rewarding relationship: support love through friendship; embrace conflicts as healthy and as opportunities to understand and connect to the other; and build together meaningful existences as individuals and as a couple.

Gottman (Gottman & Silver, 2000; Gottma, Gottman & Declaire, 2007) and Meunier and Baker (2012) offer us some useful guidelines on how to build long-lasting and satisfying relationships. Read through the following tips for a summary:

  • Upgrade Your Love Maps

Because in long-term relationships people continue changing and evolving, it is essential to continue exploring your ‘Love Maps’. And the ‘How?’… Keep having conversations and asking about each other’s talents and passions, likes and dislikes, daily experiences, etc. For example, you can use the Strengths Cards to discover the best in each other.

  • The AA Program - Show Appreciation and Admiration

Initially, in a new relationship it is all too easy to become aware of hundreds of positive things and experiences with our partners. After a while, we start noticing the negative ones, and because we have a negative bias we can get absorbed by negative thinking and feelings. Gottman has developed what he calls the Magic Ratio 5:1, which means that to have a stable relationship a couple needs to have five positive interactions to balance a negative one. And the ‘How?’… You can do it by sharing (verbally or non-verbally) what’s positive about each other and in your relationship; keep a blessings or gratitude journal together; and enjoy and even laugh (in a positive way) at your differences.

  • Check your Account!

Yes, your Emotional Bank Account! Happier couples respond to each other’s verbal and non-verbal indicators in ways that indicate their desire to connect, even in small things. In their account they have more positive emotional deposits than negative emotional deficits, and by doing so they raise their positive emotional savings account. And the ‘How?’… To reduce the burden of the deficits face your conflicts, talk about what is upsetting and disturbing you, your partner or both of you. Do not keep unsolved issues. Explore with your partner the meaning behind the “small gesture” he/she performed while he/she was reading the newspaper or watching TV, because it might indicate that they actually want to share something with you. Call your spouse during your lunchtime to find out how their day is going and appreciate that dish that they prepared specially for you.

  • Stand-Up the Comedian in You

Be playful and use humour with your partner. Couples that use more humour in their interactions have better physical and mental health, and report more sexual desire, affectionate touch and greater sexual satisfaction. And the ‘How?’… Share funny stories and jokes; play with each other; laugh and use humour during your arguments (in a respectful and non-ironic way).

  • Keep Calm and Argue

The first moments of an argument are crucial in determining whether it would end in a healthy or not so healthy way. Try to bring up the topic of discussion as softly and non-aggressively as you can. And as the argument evolves, try to repair the negative interactions and empathise with your partner. And the ‘How?’… Open the conversation with calm and open-mindedness. While the argument develops try to listen to what is positive and neutral and take breaks. Respond to the emotional needs of the other, apologise for hurting your partner’s feelings and try to balance your own complaints with sentences of love, appreciation and/or humour.

  • Avoid the Dark Side of the Force

There are four ‘Horsemen of The Apocalypse” that you should avoid in the interaction with your spouse: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. And the ‘How’?... Criticism is likely to appear in the form of complaint or as an episode of blaming; so avoid using the words “you always…” or “you never…” at any cost. In Defensiveness the spouses usually avoid responsibility and defend their innocence by counter-attacking or whining, so accept responsibility and concede a point. Contempt is an even deeper form of criticism; avoid any form of sarcasm, mocking, name-calling or hostility. Stonewalling happens when partners withdraw from the conversation and act like they are no longer participating in the argument. This can be really damaging to your relationship, so keep present and responsive.

  • No Solution, No Cry

In any couple there are usually problems that persist for many years and for which spouses have never found a good solution. The best way to cope is to accept their existence and use a “damage control” tactic. And the ‘How?’… Jointly acknowledge the problem and its unsolvable nature, and make compromises on how to deal with it in order to overcome it each time it emerges.

  • Thanks(For)Giving Days

After a conflict it is vital to get back on track with positivity. And the ‘How?’… Seek and accept forgiveness, as well as explore the gratitude in your interactions.

  • Dream Together

In meaningful relationships partners encourage each other’s personal dreams and activities, and they build joint dreams and a unique culture. And the ‘How?’… Be supportive of your partner’s wishes and career, and be proud of their actions. Also encourage him/her to have outside interests and activities, friends and a network of relationships. At the same time define and negotiate your roles according to your tasks and responsibilities, and to your strengths and interests. Create and praise your couple/family rituals and traditions (like meals, family events, holidays, etc.)

Are you now ready to download your upgrade? Enjoy the run!


Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (2000). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Gottman, J. M., Gottman, J. S. & DeClaire, J. (2007). Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Meunier, V. & Baker, W. (2012). Positive Couple Relationships: The Evidence for Long-Lasting Relationship Satisfaction and Happiness. In S. Roffey (Ed.), Positive Relationships: Evidence Based Practice across the World (pp. 1-15). New York: Springer. (click on Products to find the Strengths Cards and a PDF on how to use them)

Dr Ilona Boniwell

Strategic Programme Leader, MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and CEO, Positran, Positran and Anglia Ruskin University

Who am I? I suppose, the very first answer would be a “positive psychologist”, since all my career and professional achievements have something to do with this wonderful area of scholarship. I founded and headed the first Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) in Europe, created the European Network of Positive Psychology, organised the first European Congress of Positive Psychology (June 2002, Winchester), and was the first vice-chair of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Nowadays, I run the iMAPP, international MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, teach positive leadership at l’Ecole Centrale Paris (a top engineering school in France) and run Positran, a busy consultancy dedicated to achieving transformation through positive psychology. When it comes to my areas of expertise, I have quite a few passions: psychology of time, resilience, eudaimonic well-being and applications of positive psychology to oneself, leadership, coaching, parenting and education. I am the author or editor of six books (including Positive Psychology in a Nutshell and the Oxford Handbook of Happiness) and multiple academic and popular articles. My media work included BBC, Guardian, Times, Psychologies, Top Sante and Cosmopolitan. I am often invited to give keynote addresses to psychologists, coaches, and other professional audiences, including delivering a TEDx talk last year. Every year, I teach hundreds of leaders and mature students in the UK, France, Portugal, Singapore, Japan and many other countries across the world on how to use positive psychology in very real, tangible, nuts-and-bolts ways. Who am I personally? First of all, I am a wife and a mother or step-mother to five children (2, 14, 15, 16 and 17 years old). In fact, I progressed from having two to five children in the space of one year, so I had to really learn to walk the talk when it comes to positive parenting. Since last November, I've had the pleasure and the privilege to be a monthly Psychologies columnist, writing about the triumphs and challenges of running a large step-family; being friends with the ex-wife and negotiating educational expectations… I speak four languages, and can no longer clearly say where I am from (mixing Russian, Latvian, British and French origins and experiences). I have two cats and one dog, and I love ideas, making sense, creating something new from existing elements, and making tiny baby steps to changing the world towards something better.