Maintaining a healthy relationship is challenging. It takes time, effort and in the midst of a chaotic, busy life it can be easy to lose sight of healthy habits, such as open communication, respecting one another, maintaining trust, spending quality time together, and listening.
I have gained vital insight from looking back at my own relationships and those of my friends and family. These reflections have allowed myself to grasp key elements of how to build and maintain a healthy (and thriving!) relationship. Here I outline five methods you can implement into your relationship now.
1. Seek to Understand
Communication is a no-brainer to having a healthy relationship but how I approached communication changed dramatically when I began teaching an education program to family members of loved ones living with a mental illness. The class emphasizes skills building, particularly when it comes to communication. If you approach communication with seeking to understand you are less likely to find yourself on the offense/defense when issues arise. By taking this approach you create a safe space in your relationship for both of your voices to be heard without judgment.
2. Master the Art of I, You, and We
One of the more annoying things I witness in relationships is when one person can’t stand to be apart from the other. That’s because what happens is they no longer distinguish their personal identity from their identity as a couple. In college, I organized a girl’s night out with one of my married friends who spent the entire time talking about how much she missed her husband and then left after two hours to go home and watch a movie with him.
Recently, my aunt took a weekend off from being a stay at home Mom to three young children because she needed some quality “me” time. Her husband cried when she left, he constantly texted and called her throughout the weekend with “I miss you. The kids miss you.”, and then he begged her to come home early (which she did because honestly who wouldn’t feel guilty with all that happening in the background). It is so easy to lose your sense of self in a relationship because you have to invest your time and effort in raising children and/or keeping the romance alive but I firmly believe if you want a “grown-up” relationship there needs to be a healthy balance between “I”, “You”, and “We”.
3. The 10 Second Rule
Many years ago I watched a documentary about two kids in college who traveled throughout the U.S. asking strangers to share their experiences and insight about love. One interview in particular stuck out to me, which was with a couple that had been married for 60 years. You could see right away from their body language and the way they interacted with one another the immense love that existed between them. After 60 years, they were still in the honey moon stage of their relationship.
The kids pointed out this observation in the interview and asked the couple how they maintained that spark throughout the years. Their answer was completely unexpected. Every morning before they walked out the door they embraced and kissed for at least 10 seconds. And every evening when they got home they embraced and kissed for at least 10 seconds. No matter how busy or chaotic their lives, they did this every morning and every night. For 60 years. That is beauty.
4. Snooping is a No Win Situation
I’m certain that most of us at some point or another have snooped through our partner’s phones, email, and/or social media accounts. Maybe because we think s/he is up to no good or maybe because we’re just curious. Either way, there are only two possible outcomes when we do this. One, you’re suspicions are validated; s/he is, in fact, up to no good and now you don’t trust them. Two, you’re suspicions are unfounded and you look like a jackass, proving you’re the untrustworthy one. Either way, you don’t win.
I imagine the guy I am casually dating now just read this and smirked. Here I am doling out advice about how you shouldn’t invade your significant others’ privacy when, just a month ago, I stood in front of him admitting I hacked into his phone to find out if he was seeing anyone else (he wasn’t, by the way). Even though he’s smirking and shaking his head at me at this very moment, my gigantic mistake does in fact give me some serious street cred when I tell you to step away from the phone, email, and/or social media accounts because at the end of the day you cannot have a healthy relationship that isn’t built on trust.
5. Pre-Marital Counseling
Ok, so pre-marital counseling may sound weird (particularly if you and your significant other aren’t engaged), but hear me out. My best friend is getting married in two days and one of the most fascinating things I find about her engagement is her and her fiancés experience with pre-marital counseling. Before their sessions began each of them completed a survey asking them to rate their level of agreement/disagreement with a series of 200 questions on topics like career, finances, intimacy, kids, religion, household duties, family involvement, and their social lives.
For example, one of the statements in the survey said, “I fear that I will put my career before my kids.” My friend strongly agreed with this statement while her fiancé strongly disagreed. She is career-driven and would work 18 hour days if she needed to. She loves her work. Her fiancé on the other hand leaves work at 5pm and he’s done. He has an out of sight, out of mind mentality. It was something they hadn’t discussed and weren’t particularly drawn to because one, they don’t have kids right now and two they don’t plan on having kids for a while. Regardless, they identified a potential source of future marital stress. By identifying that early on they could have an open dialogue about their fears and create a plan on how they might address that situation in the future if it were to come up.
Moreover, pre-marital counseling has helped them to see where their values align and where they may diverge a bit. If you haven’t had those conversations yet and you find they are actually quite different, it may be something you want to address before moving forward in the relationship. I firmly believe that in order to have a successful relationship or marriage, you have to be compatible in this regard.
I find tremendous value in pre-marital counseling because it lays the foundation for a strong relationship or marriage. If you aren’t in a serious relationship I wouldn’t necessarily suggest attending these kinds of sessions (you might scare the other person away) but if you are serious - or want to see if your casual relationship could become something more serious - then it is certainly something to consider.
Developing and maintaining a healthy relationship takes time and effort, and each couples approach will vary. These five tips can be a great starting point to guiding your own path toward a thriving relationship.
CHECK OUT LINDSAY WALLACE'S BLOG, THE SCENIC WAY HOME: ADVENTURES OF A TRAVEL ENTHUSIAST AND MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE.