People often find out what I do for a living, and immediately ask me, “What’s the secret to a happy relationship?” The answer is always more complicated than a short response, as is the work involved to make a healthy relationship sustainable. However, there are a few core values you’ll find in every healthy relationship. Check yours below, to see how you measure up.
The basics for a healthy relationship
- Developing intimacy
Intimacy can mean emotional or physical intimacy. Emotional intimacy involves an open exchange of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, hopes, and goals. It is based on a risk taking approach that allows each person to share openly and honestly. Couples with close emotional intimacy grow together through change. Increasing emotional intimacy typically leads to greater physical intimacy between partners.
- Effective communication
Intimacy, both emotional and physical, cannot be achieved without healthy and effective communication. Open, honest, and caring communication is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. This includes verbal and non-verbal communication.
Respecting your partner, their values, their boundaries, and their goals is all part of positive intimacy and effective communication. Respect in relationships lead to increased communication and increased intimacy.
Do you do this in your relationship?
Based on the above list of core values, healthy couples typically practice the following habits. Try to see how many of these you do, and which ones you need to practice more often in your relationship:
- Individually accept responsibility for their own behavior and own self esteem
- Share personal goals and align relationship goals
- Choose to encourage one another
- Communicate their feelings with honesty and openness
- Listen empathically when feelings are expressed
- Demonstrate that they accept and value each other
- Choose thoughts, words, and actions that support the positive goals of the relationship
- Solve relationship conflicts together
- Commit themselves to the ongoing process of maintaining an equal and strong relationship
- Make time on a daily basis for each other
- Show respect by attending and listening to the other without interruption
- Use skills that process rather than suppress anger
- Resolve conflicts using healthy skills and respectful words
- Reserve quality time for fun each week with each other
- Meet weekly to discuss issues surrounding the relationship
- Allow their partner to answer with their own thoughts rather than project from past discussions what they assume will be said
- Allow their partners to offer, or make requests, rather than demand
- Appreciate their partners, rather than take them for granted
- Focus on the positive: on what’s working rather than on what’s wrong
When things are working well, relationships feel easy and welcome. Those are the times to practice the skills above to strengthen your relationship. When things are challenging, it’s an even better time to remind yourself of the core values that make for strong and healthy relationships.
We all know, however, that there are times when the communication or the history between you and your partner is too much for you both to navigate. Communication becomes strained, avoided, or unwelcome. Intimacy breaks down, and respect will too after a while. That’s the best time to consider exploring which of these healthy habits need a boost, or to seek professional assistance.
Regardless of your place in life, your partner, or your history, know that healthy relationships require work. Nothing comes easily, although it seems that way in the movies. There’s no magic time when things get better without any effort. Even the happiest of relationships worked to get that way, and are still working to stay that way. Focusing on respect, communication and closeness with each interaction is a great foundation for that work, and a wonderful place to start.