Everyone wants the best relationship they can have. The markers of a happy relationship are: Cooperation/partnership, mutuality, laughter and affection. Whether you’re in a relationship now or hoping to be, these keys will help you create a more loving and happier partnership.

The Key to Handling Problems Before They Start:

Be on the lookout for early warning signs that things are getting a little off track between you two:

• If you're feeling resentful of anything—that's a definite warning. Resentment is like rust that can eat away at the foundations of the relationship. You need to talk about it, get it resolved.

• Arguments that won't go away and keep repeating are also signs of trouble.

• Companionable silence is good, resentful silence or hopeless silence (It's no use—he/she won't listen anyway) are problems.

• Problems with sex often indicate problems with other kinds of communication.

The Keys to Caring for Yourself Emotionally, Mentally, and Spiritually Are:

• Understand what you need to be happy.

• Don't dwell on the negative -- if something's wrong, just focus on it long enough to understand it, then change focus to finding a solution.

• Don't expect your partner to make you happy—that's your job. You can help each other, but you can't do it for each other; so figure out what you need, then talk to your partner about how to get it.

• Count your blessings—no matter how annoying your partner may be at this moment, there are many good things happening, also. Don't let the negative soak up all your attention.

The Keys to Caring about Your Partner Are:

• Listen, listen, listen. The three most important words in a relationship are 'tell me more.' To consider your partner's needs, you need to understand them first. Listening does that. If you both know your partner will always be available to hear what you want to say, you'll be much happier. Knowing what your partner wants doesn't mean you have to "give in"—instead, work together to find a solution that works for both of you.

• Resentment is dangerous to you and your relationship. If you find yourself starting to harbor little resentments, take care of it as a favor to both yourself and your partner. Notice hurt feelings and upsets: don't let them pile up. Talk about it with your partner without being accusing. You can own that something hurt your feelings or upset you without blaming; and your partner is much more likely to own up if he or she does not feel accused.

• Most of the time your partner doesn't realize how you feel until you say it out loud. Take the time to know what you want to fix the problem before you bring it up. Understand why you're hurt, and whether it's something that actually comes from somewhere else—like a previous relationship or your childhood—or it's something particular to your partner. Then, figure out what you'll need to fix it.

The Keys to Common Mistakes that Can Alienate Both of You Are:

• Not taking responsibility for your bad moods, fears, and other feelings; and letting your partner feel responsible. That separates you.

• Not making sure you have time for your partner also separates you. Don't let TV, Internet, work, kids or other people soak up all the time so you don't have any left for each other. Seek a balance.

• Relaxing too much and becoming complacent. Keep your courting behavior alive, and bring it out regularly. Don’t ever forget that you fell in love with each other. Guard against taking your partner and your relationship for granted.

The Keys to Getting or Staying Out of a Rut:

When you feel like you and your partner are in a rut—you know you love each other, but you've just lost some of that zing when you're together, there are a few fun things you can do to freshen things up.

• Count your blessings, and share what you're grateful for. It will enhance the joy in your relationship.

• If you're bored, you've been lazy—get out there and do something together. A walk, a special meal (at home or out, depending on budget) perusing the photo album, a flower, a note—can all create pleasure and joy. Clear the calendar and spend a day just enjoying each other—including great sex. Have a date, like you used to. The zing will come right back.

• Dress for date night. Women don't understand how much guys like it when they have pretty underwear or are dressed up. He won't see your extra weight or your little wrinkles—he'll just see that you dressed up—for him. He'll like it. And guys, she likes it when you clean up, too. For that date night, dress as carefully as you did when you were really dating.

The Keys to Sharing a Household:

• Learn how to talk over difficult subjects—money, space and style differences—so that they don't escalate into fights.

• Avoid being territorial. You can share space, and blend your styles. Hopefully, there will be enough space that each of you can have a bit of turf that is yours. You need a corner to retreat to when you get on edge with each other or the world.

• To talk about money, use your business skills. It's just math -- take the emotion out of it, and talk as you would in a business meeting.

• Share your space and your resources, and also allow each other some privacy and independence. Intimacy thrives when each of you has a sense of separate self.

The Keys to Sharing Parenting:

• To create cooperative parenting, understand that there are a lot more ways to do it successfully than you think. Maybe you liked what your own parents did, and your spouse liked what his or her parents did—but you are two entirely different people, and so are your kids. It's great to find a book or parenting class to give you both neutral ground to talk about it. And you do need to talk about it.

• Each time there's a problem, solve it on the spot, but then talk about it afterward (without the kids around) to work out how to avoid that problem in the future. Update your skills as your kids reach different phases (toddler, pre-schooler, grammar school, pre-teen, teenager, young adult) so you won't be always scrambling after the fact. Plan ahead together for the next phase. Take the time to enjoy your kids. Make sure they feel like part of the family by doing chores and helping out. Don't give them a free ride—it's not good for their character.

© 2012 Tina B. Tessina
adapted from: Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences (Kindle and Paperback;)
Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling About the Three Things That Can Destroy Your Marriage (Adams Media) ISBN# 978-1-59869-325-6 and How To Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page)ISBN #1-56414-549-2

Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina, is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for LoveForever.com, a website designed to strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.