How to love the one you're with

"Focusing on what's going well ... strengthens a marriage," marriage and family therapist Terri Orbuch says.

Story highlights

  • Study: The happiest couples focus on what they like in their current relationship
  • Remember that a shiny, new partner will eventually reveal their own set of flaws
  • Instead of seeking newness in a partner, try new activities in the current relationship

So... you've been fantasizing about trading in your partner for a newer model, hmm? Dreaming about what it would be like to be with someone else? Well, you might want to knock it off. That "grass is always greener" attitude could spell doom for your relationship in the long run.

According to the Early Years of Marriage Project, a landmark study that has followed the same couples for 20-plus years, the happiest couples are those who focus on what they like about their current relationship. "Focusing on what's going well -- rather than looking elsewhere for something that might be better -- strengthens a marriage," says marriage and family therapist Terri Orbuch, the study's project director and author of "5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great."

Still not ready to give up your wandering eye? See if any of these excuses sound familiar...

But... I'm just thinking about meeting someone new. I'm not acting on it, so I'm not hurting anyone.

That's a slippery slope, says psychotherapist Rita DeMaria, author of "The 7 Stages of Marriage." "If you're having those thoughts on regular basis, you're creating more vulnerability for yourself to be tempted -- and you're going to be in trouble sooner rather than later."

But... what if there is someone better out there?

Remember how, early in your current relationship, everything was all sunshine and roses? That's how most relationships seem at the outset. "At the beginning of relationships, we think it's all new and different," says Orbuch. "[But] everybody has a public and a private self. People present their public self, and we don't see the negatives." In other words, even if you do happen to find a shiny new partner, he or she will eventually reveal some big flaws, too -- and they might be worse than your current partner's.

But... I can't control my thoughts.

Try. Practice fantasizing about the partner you already have, suggests DeMaria. The more you fantasize about the person you're with, the more he or she will become your dream person. "Fantasizing about other people -- especially if you get fixated on somebody -- that's when you get in trouble," she says.

But... don't comparisons set the bar higher?

Sometimes. If you look at someone else's relationship and think, "I want that with my own partner," that's one thing. "Taking what you see from others and saying 'I would love to incorporate that positive thing' can actually help your relationship," says Orbuch. But if you're resenting your partner for not having someone else's qualities... well, no good comes of that. "Don't base your relationship and whether or not it's 'good' or 'bad' on what you see in others," warns Orbuch. Appearances can be deceiving.

But... new is good!

Yes, "new" can be fun. "Newness leads to excitement," says Orbuch. "Newness leads to passion. That is one of the reasons we look outside a relationship." But you don't have to look for newness elsewhere, she notes -- you can look for it in your current relationship. "If you would do some new, different things with your [current] partner, you'd [experience] the same 'grass is greener' effect," she says. "You'll also be happier -- and it [will] ignite the passion as well."