Authors: Joanna Saisan, M.S.W., Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
Advice for Building Loving Relationships that are Healthy, Happy and Satisfying
A strong, healthy relationship can be one of the best supports in your life. Good relationships improve all aspects of your life, strengthening your health, your mind, and your connections with others. However, if the relationship isn’t working, it can also be a tremendous drain. Relationships are an investment. The more you put in, the more you can get back. These tips can help keep a healthy relationship strong, or repair trust and love in a relationship on the rocks.
How to strengthen your loving relationship
What makes a healthy love relationship?
- Staying involved with each other. Some relationships get stuck in peaceful coexistence, but without truly relating to each other and working together. While it may seem stable on the surface, lack of involvement and communication increases distance. When you need to talk about something important, the connection and understanding may no longer be there.
- Getting through conflict. Some couples talk things out quietly, while others may raise their voices and passionately disagree. The key in a strong relationship, though, is not to be fearful of conflict. You need to be safe to express things that bother you without fear of retaliation, and be able to resolve conflict without humiliation, degradation or insisting on being right.
- Keeping outside relationships and interests alive. No one person can meet all of our needs, and expecting too much from someone can put a lot of unhealthy pressure on a relationship. Having friends and outside interests not only strengthens your social network, but brings new insights and stimulation to the relationship, too.
- Communicating. Honest, direct communication is a key part of any relationship. When both people feel comfortable expressing their needs, fears and desires, trust and bonds are strengthened. Critical to communication are nonverbal cues—body language like eye contact, leaning forward or away, or touching someone’s arm.
Touch is a fundamental part of human existence. Studies on infants have shown the importance of regular, loving touch and holding on brain development. These benefits do not end in childhood. Life without physical contact with others is a lonely life indeed.
Studies have shown that affectionate touch actually boosts the body’s levels of oxytocin, a hormone that influences bonding and attachment. In a committed relationship between two adult partners, physical intercourse is often a cornerstone of the relationship. However, intercourse should not be the only method of physical intimacy in a relationship. Regular, affectionate touch—holding hands, hugging, or kissing—is equally important.
Be sensitive to what your partner likes. While touch is a key part of a healthy relationship, it’s important to take some time to find out what your partner really likes. Unwanted touching or inappropriate overtures can make the other person tense up and retreat—exactly what you don’t want.
You probably have fond memories of when you were first dating your loved one. Everything may have seemed new and exciting, and you may have spent hours just chatting together or coming up with new, exciting things to try. However, as time goes by, children, demanding jobs, long commutes, different hobbies and other obligations can make it hard to find time together. It’s critical for your relationship, though, to make time for yourselves. If you don’t have quality time, communication and understanding start to erode.
Simple ways to connect as a couple and rekindle love
- Commit to spending quality time together on a regular basis. Even during very busy and stressful times, a few minutes of really sharing and connecting can help keep bonds strong.
- Find something that you enjoy doing together, whether it is a shared hobby, dance class, daily walk, or sitting over a cup of coffee in the morning.
- Try something new together. Doing new things together can be a fun way to connect and keep things interesting. It can be as simple as trying a new restaurant or going on a day trip to a place you’ve never been before.
Couples are often more fun and playful in the early stages of a relationship. However, this playful attitude can sometimes be forgotten as life challenges or old resentments start getting in the way. Keeping a sense of humor can actually help you get through tough times, reduce stress and work through issues more easily.
Focus on having fun together
- Think about playful ways to surprise your partner, like bringing flowers or a favorite movie home unexpectedly.
- Learn from the “play experts” together. Playing with pets or small children can really help you reconnect with your playful side. If it’s something you do together, you also learn more about your partner and how he or she likes to have fun.
- Make a habit of laughing together whenever you can. Most situations are not as bleak as they appear to be when you approach them with humor.
Learning how to play again
A little humor and playful interaction can go a long way in relieving tense situations and helping you see the brighter side. If you’re feeling a little rusty, learn more about how playful communication can improve your relationship, and fun ways to practice this skill.
Good communication is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship. When people stop communicating well, they stop relating well, and times of change or stress can really bring out disconnect. As long as you are communicating, you can work through whatever problem you’re facing.
Learn your partner’s emotional cues
Each of us is a little different in how we best receive information. Some people might respond better to sight, sound or touch. Your partner’s responses may be different from yours. Take some time to learn your partner’s cues, and be sure to communicate your own as well. For example, one person might find a brief massage after a stressful day a loving mode of communication—while another might just want to talk over a hot cup of tea.
So much of our communication is transmitted by what we don’t say. Nonverbal cues such as eye contact, leaning forward or away, or touching someone’s arm communicate much more than words. For a relationship to work well, each person has to be receptive to sending and receiving nonverbal cues. Learning to understand this “body language” can help you understand better what your partner is trying to say. Think about what you are transmitting as well, and if what you say matches what you feel. If you insist “I’m fine”, while clenching your teeth and looking away, your body is clearly signaling you are not.
Question your assumptions
If you’ve known each other for a while, you may assume that your partner has a pretty good idea of what you are thinking and what you need. However, your partner is not a mind-reader. While your partner may have some idea, it is much healthier to express your needs directly to avoid any confusion. Your partner may sense something, but it might not be what you need. What’s more, people change, and what you needed and wanted five years ago, for example, may be very different now. Getting in the habit of expressing your needs helps you weather difficult times, which otherwise may lead to increasing resentment, misunderstanding and anger.
Use your senses to keep stress in check
If you’re not calm and focused, you won’t be able to communicate effectively. The best way to reduce stress quickly and reliably is through the senses. But each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find things that are soothing to you.
Relationship advice tip 4: Healthy relationships are built on give and take
If you expect to get what you want 100% of a time in a relationship, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Healthy relationships are built on compromise. However, it takes work on each person’s part to make sure that there is a reasonable exchange.
Recognize what’s important to your partner
Knowing what is truly important to your partner can go a long way towards building goodwill and an atmosphere of compromise. On the flip side, it’s also important for your partner to recognize your wants and for you to state them clearly. Constantly giving to others at the expense of your own needs builds resentment and anger.
Don’t make “winning” your goal
If you approach your partner with the attitude that things have to be your way or else, it will be difficult to reach a compromise. Sometimes this attitude comes from not having your needs met while younger, or it could be years of accumulated resentment in the relationship reaching a boiling point. It’s alright to have strong convictions about something, but your partner deserves to be heard as well. You are more likely to get your needs met if you respect what your partner needs, and compromise when you can.
Learn how to respectfully resolve conflict
Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, but to keep a relationship strong, both people need to feel they’ve been heard. The goal is not to win but to resolve the conflict with respect and love.
- Make sure you are fighting fair.
- Don’t attack someone directly but use “I” statements to communicate how you feel.
- Don’t drag old arguments into the mix.
- Keep the focus on the issue at hand, and respect the other person.
Relationship advice tip 5: Expect ups and downs
It’s also important to recognize that there are ups and downs in every relationship. You won’t always be on the same page. Sometimes one partner may be struggling with an issue that stresses them, such as the death of a close family member. Other events, like job loss or severe health problems, can affect both partners and make it difficult to relate to each other. You might have different ideas of managing finances or raising children. Different people cope with stress differently, and misunderstanding can rapidly turn to frustration and anger.
Relationship advice for getting through life’s ups and downs
- Don’t take out your problems on your partner. Life stresses can make us short tempered. If you are coping with a lot of stress, it might seem easier to vent with your partner, and even feel safer to snap at him or her. Fighting like this might initially feel like a release, but it slowly poisons your relationship. Find other ways to vent your anger and frustration.
- Some problems are bigger than both of you. Trying to force a solution can cause even more problems. Every person works through problems and issues in his or her own way. Remember that you’re a team. Continuing to move forward together can get you through the rough spots.
- Be open to change. Change is inevitable in life, and it will happen whether you go with it or fight it. Flexibility is essential to adapt to the change that is always taking place in any relationship, and it allows you to grow together through both the good times and the bad.
- Don’t ignore problems. Whatever problems arise in a romantic relationship, it’s important to face them together as a couple. If an aspect of the relationship stops working, don’t simply ignore it but address it with your partner. Things change, so respond to them together as they do.
Romantic relationships require ongoing attention
Many couples focus on their relationship only when there are specific, unavoidable problems to overcome. Once the problems have been resolved they often switch their attention back to their careers, kids, or other interests. However, romantic relationships require ongoing attention and commitment for love to flourish. As long as the health of a romantic relationship remains important to you, it is going to require your attention and effort.
Joanna Saisan, M.S.W., Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. (Jan 2013) Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/improve_relationships.htm