As I was sitting down and reading the new edition of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it made me ponder on the habits my wife and I have that makes us an effective couple. We’ve been together for almost sixteen years, which is about half our lives.
An effective couple is a mostly harmonious one and thrives together
As we were brainstorming ideas, I wanted to think deeper about what really makes us stronger than couples who don’t last as long. We came up with the following seven habits.
I used to be a very selfish guy, doing things only for my own benefit. If it helped others at the same time, that was fine, but I wasn’t aiming for that. My wife, however, has always been one to give back. She’s always been great at thinking about others and helping them.
After many years of being together, it rubbed on me. When I can, I try to give my time to help people. We sometimes do things together abroad. She’s a nurse and I’m a photographer, so we uniquely complement each other when helping NGOs abroad.
When we’re back home, she helps the refugees and runs the Medecins Sans Frontières Quebec association. I sometimes join her to take photos. We love doing that.
When you both spend some of your time on things that help others, it makes you both “better” people. You tend to become more empathic and understand other people’s points of view, two very valuable skills for a couple.
2. Chatting over a pint
All our best decisions were made while chatting over a pint of beer at a pub. When we came back from a year-long trip around the world, we made it a habit to go to a pub about once a week. It was our way to break the monotony of our regular routine.
When you’re out of your home, you take the time to have real conversations. It’s about your daily life, chores, and other mundane things. You dare go beyond and have real conversations.
And while best decisions are made at the pub, we have deeply serious and unpleasant conversations as well.
I remember when she joined me in Colombia after being apart from each other for six months. She was in the Republic of Congo for work and she loved what she was doing there, and I loved what I was doing in Colombia. If it wasn’t for me, she would have stayed.
Being apart for that long changed our mindset about a few things, the biggest one being the idea of having a baby. I was far from ready, but she clearly was. We had a very unpleasant discussion at the pub that day. While on the moment, I would have preferred that conversation to never have happened, in hindsight, it’s because of conversations like those that we’re strong.
We’re not afraid to say what’s on our mind, even if it hurts. And let’s just say the pint facilitates that a little! :)
If you’re not into beer, I’m sure you can achieve the same results over coffee, tea, or dinner. The important thing is that you find a time to have a real conversation that works for both of you.
Even to this day, many couples have specific roles they play in the house. The man does a, b, and c, while the woman does x, y, and z. We don’t really. While I do most of the cooking and she does most of the cleaning, the ratio is very close to fifty-fifty. If one of us is not feeling good for doing a chore, the other takes over, no complaint.
During of our sixteen years together, there are times when she was bringing more money to the table, and times when I did. We never fought over who was bringing more. We don’t fight over who’s spending more either.
My time isn’t worth more than hers, and vice versa. When we make big decisions, we make them together. We don’t try to force our idea onto the other. Just like in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we seek first to understand, then to be understood. This allows us to always be on the same level.
If you want to be “dominant” in your relationship, good luck making it effective.
“Thank you” is such an ingrained word in our vocabulary. We thank each other for literally everything the person does for the other. Audrey even thanks me for talking to her belly! :)
What’s nice about this habit is that we try not to take anything for granted. When one does a chore, the other thanks them. Technically, they didn’t “have to” do it. So we appreciate the effort from the other. Cooking, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, doing the groceries, etc — any reason is good to thank the other person.
And beyond the simple stuff, we’re grateful for having found each other and having spent all this time together. It’s not like every moment was perfect, but we like to recognize the moments that made us who we’ve become together.
This one is borrowed directly from the book because it really speaks to us. Synergy is the best word I can think of to describe what we do best as a couple. Here’s a definition for it:
the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects
The organization here is our couple. What we do together has a stronger effect than the sum of our separate effects. In other words, we complement each other so well that when we do things together, we’re much better than we’d be on our own.
Audrey and I have the same values but couldn’t be more different on so many levels. She’s a people-pleaser, I, on the other end, have mastered the art of not giving a f*. She loves a pristinely clean environment while I don’t mind an “organized” mess. She’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert. She’s more emotional, I’m more logical.
On many points, we’re polar opposites, but damn does that make us a great team for problem-solving, especially since we see each other as equals. It’s never about who’s right, but rather about win-win situations — again, another habit from the book.
How do you complement each other? What makes your synergy strong? Without strong synergy, it’s hard to be an effective couple.
6. Time “Off”
We love to do things together as a “team”, but throughout our relationship, we’ve been long-distance many times.
We started our relationship two hours apart. We were both living in our hometowns, a little over two hours driving-distance apart. We’d see each other about twice a month. Back then, we didn’t have internet, so communication wasn’t easy. She had phone curfews and was deep into her homework. It was tough, but we pushed through.
A few years later, she spent a couple months in Morocco while I was in Montreal. Another time I was in Ottawa for three months while she was in Montreal. Other times, she was working in Africa while I was roaming the world.
All-in-all, we probably “lost” three years by being long-distance. The hardships we went through made us stronger. It also allowed us to be independent and thrive on our own.
Couples who take time “off” voluntarily are not wrong. It’s good to take time to appreciate what you have, and that’s hard to do when you’re always with your partner.
I didn’t grow up in a family who travelled and never had any ambition to do so growing up. Her family was different and travelled all the time. It took about 8 years of being together before I agreed to travel.
At first, our trips were normal one-to-two-weeks of vacation to places not that far from home. When you live in Canada, that’s quite limited! Then, one day, we went hiking the Inca Trail to the Macchu Picchu. The experience was so magical that it hit us: we need to turn this into a habit! We started travelling to more places at least twice a year but always wanted more.
As we collected visas and stamps, we realized it wasn’t enough. We ended up leaving our work to travel for a year. The sheer amount of experiences we lived together is unlike anything else you could do back at home. When we came back, we realized we needed more and left again to become nomads.
Everything you need to know
Here are 7 habits of a highly effective couple — one that has been together for half their lives and is thriving like never before:
- Charity — Do goodwill activities together.
- Chatting over a pint — Have deep conversations in a different environment from home.
- Equality — Don’t split the work, interchange “roles”, and do just as much without complaining.
- Gratitude — Thank your partner for anything and everything.
- Synergy — Complement each other so well that when you do things together, you’re much better than you’d be on our own.
- Time “off” — Spend time doing activities you enjoy on your own.
- Travel — Experience different environments and adapt together.
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