Movies, books, and t.v. can make relationships seem so easy, yet the reality is that strong and healthy relationships require some work. It takes time, intention, and partners working together to establish a solid foundation and to maintain a thriving relationship. Here we lay out six helpful building blocks that will support a healthy and dynamic relationship in real life!
Be a whole person
Phrases such as “my better half” or “two halves of a whole” are often used in reference to couples or partnerships, and while these endearments can relay a certain level of intimacy, in order for a relationship to truly thrive, all parties must be whole and willing to bring their full selves to the table. This means that you may need to work on yourself (and your partner may need to work on themselves) before you can have a really healthy relationship.
This also means that you need to be fully open to the relationship. Be your true and authentic self. If you have past hurts or pains that prevent you from being open with your partner and accepting them, then you may need to consider those barriers and even seek your own therapeutic work to move past them. Sometimes participating in individual psychotherapy can really strengthen you and your relationship.
Really see your partner
Many relationships face challenges because one or both partners do not really see the other for who they truly are. This can come as a result of having unrealistic expectations of a partner, or perhaps wanting them to embody some idealized fantasy, rather than seeing and appreciating the person in front of you. It is also possible to see your partner through a lens informed by the past, perhaps projecting onto them the bad experiences you had in another intimate relationship or with members of your family.
Get to know your partner, flaws and all. Research shows that when you accept and even idealize your partner as they are, the relationship functions better. If you find you are trying to put unrealistic expectations on them, catch yourself. Discern whether this is a reasonable expectation or if it is something skewed by fantasy or even fear. Think things over and then talk it out.
Open lines of communication
It becomes a lot easier to “talk it out” when you have already established open lines of communication. It is not always easy to talk openly and accurately, with ease and understanding, and successful communication is more likely when you both really listen to listen, rather than listen to figure out your own response. When you do respond, do so by using “I feel” statements.
If you have not heard of “I feel” statements, they involve sharing your feelings but doing so in a way that focuses on the feeling, which cuts down on blaming and defensiveness. “I feel upset right now because…” is easier to hear than “You make me upset when…” The former opens up communication by expressing an opinion while other types of statements can shut down the discussion.
Use communication as a way to learn about your partner. Ask lots of questions. You want to understand who they are, what they value, and what may be motivating their behavior. When you face a conflict, rather than jumping to conclusions, ask questions and you will have a better chance of not only resolving the conflict, but also being able to use this as an opportunity to learn and grow.
If, even with these steps and techniques, you find that you still struggle in your communication, perhaps it’s time to consider couples counseling. Research has shown that interventions in counseling can help couples to improve their communication styles by teaching them new communication skills.
You may sometimes judge your partner by their actions, particularly if they let you down in some way. It could be anything from forgetting to wash the dishes to missing an anniversary. Judgment can lead to anger and that anger can create conflict in your relationship.
Instead of judging, try practicing compassion. Your partner is just like you- namely, human! Just as you might make errors, they will too. Instead of judging and slipping into anger, approach your partner with empathy and compassion. This will allow you to have a more open dialogue.
In your relationship, it is also important to treat yourself with compassion because you to will inevitably mess up. If you allow yourself to sit in regret over your own errors and perceived shortcomings, it can fester and negatively affect the relationship. Research shows that when you practice self-compassion it is easier to display more positive behaviors towards your partner.
Carefully handle differences
It may sound cliché, but in a relationship your differences can either create distance or they can serve to strengthen and bring you closer. It all rests on how you handle them. Depending on the exact context and situation, differences may require a bit of discussion to resolve. At times you may be able to compromise, and at others you might just need to agree to disagree.
Differences that require discussion and resolution could be situations involving an affair or major value conflicts, for example ones that might affect daily practices or the way you raise children. Couples may sometimes attend counseling to help them work through certain differences as it can often be helpful to have another party serve in the role of mediator to help you talk things over and find that resolution.
Sometimes you might be able to discern your own compromise, such as whose family to spend the holidays with, and other times, the differences between the two of you can be equally positive. If you have unique interests, share them with one another, but also take opportunities to engage in activities on your own or with other friend groups. These approaches help keep the relationship from stagnating.
Spend Quality Time Together
Early on in the relationship, couples often spend lots of time getting to know one another and invest time in building the foundation for the relationship they will have together. Once the relationship is established, however, couples can often get caught up in the business of just living and will forget to make time for dates or for relaxing with one another. The foundation that you build in the beginning must be continuously nurtured throughout the relationship, and you can do this by spending intentional time together. Try to spend time talking every day and schedule special things to do together outside of daily life.
We encourage you to try and adopt the building blocks described below to see if they can help to establish or build a strong relationship. Perhaps start with the one that resonates the most for you and your particular relationship. If you are working to develop a strong relationship or want to improve your relationship and find that you are struggling to do so on your own, then consider couples therapy. A couples counselor can help you to resolve cracks in the foundation of your relationship and usher in stability so that you can experience the most benefit from the work that you and your partner will do together.