What exactly makes a relationship healthy? How do you know if you are in a healthy relationship? Many of us look to other couples to figure out what it is that they have that makes their relationship seem so easy. We hear or read quotes such as, “A healthy relationship won’t feel like work,” when in reality, being in a relationship requires ongoing effort.
Love is a choice. When we accept this, we can begin to see conflict with our partner as a way to exercise the choice to love. Embracing conflict provides an opportunity to openly reflect on what both partners possess to enhance the relationship and can ultimately lead to stronger communication and deeper love. However, to be able to work on a relationship with someone else requires self-reflection, self-acceptance, openness, and the awareness and ability to respond calmly and openly to positive and constructive criticism. These are not easy tasks, but when put into practice, can provide you and your partner the opportunity to love each other and live together to the fullest. The following 6 Habits can put you on the path to this stronger, more vibrant relationship.
Habit 1: Active Listening
What does it mean to actually listen to someone? In a relationship where communication is almost all nonverbal, there are many elements that go into actively listening to your partner, and making sure they feel that you are listening. Your partner usually can tell if you are genuinely interested in what they are saying. You can indicate interest by occasionally nodding your head to signal agreement or understanding. You may also show different facial expressions when your partner says something surprising, upsetting, exciting, sad, etc. Asking your partner questions in response to something they said also shows you are listening and that you are interested. It’s not necessary to always offer advice or opinions. Sometimes it is validating to just be there physically and emotionally with quiet compassion.
Habit 2: Validation
To validate a person means to acknowledge or affirm that their emotions and views are acceptable and worthwhile. For example, in response to your partner telling you a story about something annoying that may have happened to them at work, you could say something like “Wow yeah. That sounds incredibly frustrating. I understand why you would feel that way.” Some things not to say would be anything that invalidates their feelings such as, “Well maybe you just heard them wrong,” or “I would just let it go - you’re being too sensitive about it.”
Habit 3: Compromise
Without a doubt there will be many things that you and your partner do not agree on. Whether about making plans with friends, or whether it’s best to boil or microwave a hot dog, there will be many types of issues that you and your partner that must deal with. Compromising is often the key for success. Compromise requires both partners to meet in the middle so each person gets a little of what they want. So, "maybe I will microwave my hot dog and you can boil yours? Maybe we can pick one day out of the week where no matter what, we reserve it for hanging out with friends?" Pick and choose your battles. Do not dwell on the problem, but focus on a solution so you can both continue enjoying each other and your day together.
Habit 4: Utilizing Love Languages
In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman identifies categories for how we commonly feel and express love. These love languages are Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Gifts, Quality Time, and Words of Affirmation. If your partner frequently buys you gifts and always seems to physically touch you as a way to show their love, that is most likely your partner’s love language. Most of us do for others what we want done for ourselves. If you can hone in on what your partner does for you and do it back for them, you will experience more passion and connection. If you see that you yearn for quality time and acts of service (doing the dishes, making the bed, etc.), let your partner know your needs so they can show you love in the way you appreciate it to be expressed.
Habit 5: Couples Who Play Together Stay Together
Have fun! Plan events with your partner that get you out of the house and into the community. Pick something novel that both of you would enjoy (here comes that compromise again). Some fun ideas could be indoor skydiving, eating at a rooftop restaurant, having a picnic in the park, taking a brewery or winery tour, going camping or kayak fishing, running a 5K, going to a concert, etc. Exploration and discovery often leads to learning something fun and new about your partner. Experiencing something new together becomes more important the longer you are in a relationship. It may be just what you need to spice things up.
Habit 6: Understanding Anger
Remember that a relationship without conflict does NOT mean happiness or perfection. Conflict is necessary for growth and bonding, and anger often accompanies conflict. Anger is a “masking emotion” in which there is always an underlying emotion. When someone is angry, they are usually feeling hurt, rejected, embarrassed, humiliated, wronged, or betrayed. Before acting on your anger, ask yourself these three questions: 1) Do I feel wronged? Most of the time the answer is “yes." 2) Do I feel that it was unfair? Most of the time the answer is “yes." 3) Did they do it on purpose? Most of the time the answer is “no." Keeping your partner’s initial intention in mind can help avoid a dramatic argument, and instead lead to a conversation in which you gain more insight unto your partner’s day and mood. Showing compassion and not taking your partner’s bad mood personally could lead to helping your partner out of a bad mood and also allow you to decompress.
In summary, there is no template or “how-to” for the perfect relationship, just patterns to either encourage or avoid. Many times, you won’t know that something bothers your partner until it happens. Then, what matters most is how you both handle these situations. Ask your partner questions, avoid criticism and contempt, listen, validate, and compromise. Developing these six habits can help make your relationship healthier and happier.
Lauren Forde is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern, supervised by Jerry L. Terrill, DMin, LFMT-S, LPC-S. She has a passion for working with couples to explore relational issues, problem solve, and make good relationships great.