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Three Steps to a Healthy, Happy, Partnered Life

Live a long love life with these simple steps.

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I never expected that pickleball would be part of my marriage.  As a (mostly) happily partnered person and through my work with couples, I’ve come up with a three-step flow to continuously cycle through.  And, you’ll see where pickleball plays a role.  

Strengthen yourself - Strengthen Your Relationship - Fight Fairly

The three-step flow I propose for a healthy, happy, partnered life is: (1) Fight Fairly, (2) Strengthen Yourself, and (3) Strengthen Your Relationship.  

Fight fairly

It is OK and expected to have conflict in relationships.  The key is to get through the conflict without damaging the relationship. Here are two different frameworks to arrive at fair fighting. 

The first framework is to look at your past.  Have you had a successful conflict?  What made it successful?  Did you have it while on a hike when you were both relaxed?  Did you reach a resolution and make a plan to follow up a few days later?  If there’s some specific context that made the conflict successful, try to replicate that.  

If you can’t think of a fight from your past to emulate, the next framework is to learn some techniques for fair fighting. 

  • Reframe the goal of conflict. It should not be to persuade or force the other person into something.  Your goal should be twofold: (1) listen for understanding, and (2) speak so that you can be heard.  You want to understand your partner fully, and you want your partner to fully understand you.  Only then can you attempt to move through the conflict.
  • Use a softened startup. Think of the alternative in these comparisons.
Harsh StartupSoftened Startup
“Your cooking is so boring.”“I enjoy eating Thai food so much.  Could we experiment in the kitchen and add some of those flavors?”
“You never remember my birthday.”“Honey, my birthday is coming up next week and I want to do something special with you.

The main problem with a harsh startup is that it prevents your partner from listening to your feelings and your perspective.  A soft startup to a conflict discussion is critical to its success.

  • Soothe yourself and your partner.  Feeling heated in an argument?  That’s a natural response, but that state of “flooding” can inhibit quality listening and problem-solving.  So, when conflict feels too heated, suggest a break, take some deep breaths and return to the conflict when you are both feeling calmer.  

Strengthen yourself

A happy life relies on you being functional and then sometimes moving into being happy and purposeful.  Said differently, the goal is to be fine most of the time with moments of thriving.  

Consider these two perspectives.  First, be functional, and second, move to thriving.  

  • Figure out what you need (that doesn’t involve anyone else’s involvement) to be fine.  Develop a realistic daily self-care plan.  What things do you need to do daily so that you are functional? Here is my personal daily self-care list below.  If something feels off, it’s usually because I’m missing one of these elements. 
    • Have a good night of sleep
    • Help someone
    • Eat healthy and drink water
    • Exercise
    • Make something
    • Meditate

Spend some time thinking about your needs, execute your plan, and modify if necessary.

  • Beyond functional, you deserve moments of thriving. Pick one aspect of your life that feels a bit off right now (e.g., health, career, friendships, education, free time, money, or any other big area that feels important to you).  Next, assign yourself a score in that area. A 1 means this area of my life is far from ideal. A 10 means this area of my life is ideal.  Are there barriers that keep you at that score?  Is there anything you can do to remove a barrier?  What could you do today / this week / this month to improve that aspect of your life.  You don’t need to figure out a strategy to completely move from a 1 to a 10, but what is a little thing you can do so that you move from a 4 to a 4.1, for example.   

Strengthen your relationship

The third step to a healthy, happy, partnered life is to continuously strengthen your relationship. 

  • Develop a shared hobby.  My husband and I walked by full pickleball courts last weekend in our new town and it intrigued us.  Since then, we researched the rules online, thought about buying the equipment, and figured out how to sign up for the courts  (And, are we supposed to join a league too?). Having a new pursuit/passion together gives the relationship new energy, which can be crucial in long relationships.   
  • Notice good things that your partner does.  Instead of berating your partner for leaving the kitchen lights on (again), focus on what your partner is doing that you like.  Shine the flashlight on what you want to see.  
  • Laugh together.  Does your time with your partner feel full of logistics and practicalities?  Those are necessary in a relationship, but consider bringing more laughter into your relationship.  What makes you and your partner laugh together? 

And, repeat.  Fight fairly.  Strengthen yourself.  Strengthen your relationship.  

Share, show, and speak your love! Take your relationship off of auto-pilot and shift into loving out loud. In this all-new series of exercises, activities, and videos, Drs. John and Julie Gottman can show you how to love your partner even better. Check out Loving Out Loud and upgrade your relationship today.

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Jennifer Pesetsky serves couples and individuals online from Portland, Oregon. She comes to this work with a Law degree, a Master of Science degree in Library Science, and as a grateful Gottman consumer and practitioner. Grab her free Recharge Your Relationship guide and her free tool to help you create your own realistic daily self-care plan.

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