So, you have had the meet-cute and the romance-filled honeymoon phase…how do you build a long-lasting healthy relationship?
In both healthy and unhealthy relationships you can feel loved, feel lonely, have fun, have arguments, and have good sex. But what makes some relationships strong and long-lasting while others are toxic or just fizzle?
All relationships are different but in most healthy relationships, couples work together toward building five key skills:
- You Build Intimacy: Your partner and you know each other’s likes, dislikes, dreams, worries, fears, and interests. You discuss your belief systems, values, and priorities. You also continue to have conversations around these topics as you grow and mature as people and as a couple.You both have a positive view of the other and express your admiration, fondness, and affection regularly. You also ‘brag’ about your partner to other people and speak positively to them in front of others.You compliment the other regularly and thank them for their contribution to your daily life (think taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, or making dinner). Your compliments outnumber your criticisms.You are in sync with one another and know you can rely on the other in both challenging and good times. You create a number of small and large traditions that you both enjoy doing regularly together (think brunch on Sundays, annual trips, movie nights with popcorn, coffee dates, or grocery shopping together).
- You Fight Fair: At some point, in some form, there will be conflict in every relationship. When you and your partner fight you try to lead your discussion with love and curiosity.You ask questions and listen to the answers. You fight the problem not each other. You are empathetic and compassionate even if you disagree and your feelings are hurt. You are not mean or defensive. You do not name-call or yell. You ask questions and seek understanding through curiosity not judgment.You do not give the ‘silent treatment’ or ignore your partner. You both have an opportunity to say how you are feeling or what you are upset by and focus on creating a shared solution.You are able to see both viewpoints. You focus on the issue or problem at hand and resist bringing historic fights or problems to the table as evidence for your point of view. You focus on what is important and don’t sweat the small stuff.When you don’t see eye to eye, you ask questions and listen to the answers. Even if your feelings are hurt, you try to understand both sides through curiosity, not judgment. You focus on the issue at hand and resist bringing past fights or problems to the table as evidence for your point of view.You communicate your needs and wants instead of giving the “silent treatment” or ignoring your partner. You ask for space and time to cool down instead of name-calling, yelling, or being defensive.You are fighting to ultimately better your life with the person you ‘love’ so lead your discussion with love and curiosity about them.
- You Make Changes Happen: When you see a problem, you and your partner talk about it, compromise, and come up with a solution. You plan who will do what steps to come to your agreed-upon solution. You both are committed to making the change once you have determined the problem/solution.You are also patient and kind with each other as you support your partner in solving your problems together, even when progress isn’t a straight line forward. Together you make change happen whether that is changes in how you communicate, equity in household chores, and finances, or something as simple as closing the shower curtain.
- You Communicate Honestly: You talk about (almost) everything. You openly and kindly request boundaries as needed with your partner. You are able to listen to each other’s needs and support accordingly. You don’t jump to conclusions but listen with love and curiosity.You discuss expectations about commitment and what that means to you as a couple.You share your needs with your partner and communicate your feelings and frustrations. You notice each other’s unspoken emotions and needs for connection as well.You support your partner in exploring their thoughts and opinions and ask curious questions. You listen and let your partner (sometimes) influence you. You are open to changing your mind and so is your partner.
- You Trust Your Commitment: Commitment can be defined in any number of ways. It is whatever boundaries are agreed on by both people in the relationship.You communicate honestly about what commitment looks like for you and what your expectations are as a couple. Both parties are honestly happy and comfortable with the boundaries you have both agreed onYou trust your partner to honor these boundaries and to be open and honest about any doubts or insecurities they have.You trust your partner and you trust your commitment to each other and your life together.
The five ways to build a healthy relationship describe the ultimate ambition for a relationship but may not be realistic for every healthy relationship, every day. Life, kids, jobs, stress, family, finances (etc.) can sometimes wreak havoc on even the most solid of relationships. It is the commitment for both of you to continue to work on improving your relationship and lead with love that will make your relationship healthy and thrive.