What do happy couples do?

What do happy couples do? (Photodisc, Medioimages/via Getty Images / July 5, 2013)

What do extremely happy couples know that you don't?

Chrisanna Northrup, creator and co-author of "The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship" (Harmony Books), says couples in blissful relationships interact in simple, powerful ways others can adopt.

Five years ago, Northrup realized the pressure of jobs and family was eclipsing her own marriage.

"We were working as teammates, we were in survival mode. It was OK, but I wanted more," Northrup says. "I wasn't sure if my expectations were realistic. I wanted to know what extremely happy romantic couples were doing."

When she couldn't find that information, she teamed with Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, and James Witte, director of the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University, polling 70,000 respondents around the world to create "The Normal Bar." Their answers to roughly 1,300 questions about love, romance, work, sex, finances, family and work form the foundation of the book.

The couples surveyed included a variety of ages, cultures, income levels and ethnicities. "People poured their hearts out," she says. "This was their opportunity."

The data gleaned from couples that identify themselves as extremely happy emphasize the importance of surprisingly minor adjustments in behavior.

Here are some of the habits of happy romantic couples, coupled with Northrup's commentary:

Hold hands more, at home and in public. "We know this is important," she says, "but how often do we do it?"

Sleep in the nude. "This creates closer intimacy and is easily implemented."

Take a vacation together, without kids. Nearly three-quarters of respondents reported never taking a romantic vacation, reserving trips as family time. But it's important to find a way to enjoy time alone as a couple. "If you need child care, find another family you trust, and swap child care (duties) with them," Northrup suggests. "Even if it's just a night or two away, it revitalizes the relationship."

Kiss passionately. "People want more passion in their relationship. This is one way to create that. Talk to your partner about how you want to be kissed. Ask how he/she wants to be kissed. Even a long-term partner may tell you something surprisingly simple — such as he would like you to initiate."

Use terms of endearment. "Extremely happy couples both call each other pet names," Northrup says. "The couples not doing this, wished their partner would. This is endearing. You feel more loved. Have fun trying different pet names."

Look good for your partner. Long-term couples feel they don't need this, but data show otherwise, she says. "Make an effort, even if it's something small. And when you see your partner looking good, tell him or her. One male respondent said, 'My partner goes to lunch with her girlfriends and looks great, but when we go out, she doesn't do anything to herself.' Extremely happy couples want to look attractive for each other."

When you have a positive thought about your partner, share it. Give compliments. If he or she just said something smart or touching, say so.

Make a romantic gesture. Do something nice for your partner. Ask what he or she would find romantic. If you never ask, you may miss something simple that your partner finds powerfully romantic. And be willing to share what you would like. Missing the mark on this can go on for years, Northrup says, "then it's hard to (ask). You think, 'Too much time has passed, I can't tell him now.'"

Add variety. "Trying new things when making love adds extra flavor," she says. "Men and women both want more variety. It doesn't have to be outrageous. We found that men fantasize about their partner more than anything else." Ask your partner what he or she wants, Northrup says.

Enjoy each other's company. Capitalize on overlapping similarities, and focus on activities you both enjoy. If you find you don't have enough in common, it's time to try a few new things together.

sunday@tribune.com

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