Tips for Building a Healthy Relationship
Falling in love vs. staying in love
For most people, falling in love usually seems to just happen. It’s staying in love—or preserving that “falling in love” experience—that requires commitment and work. Given its rewards, though, it’s well worth the effort. A healthy, secure romantic relationship can serve as an ongoing source of support and happiness in your life, through good times and bad, strengthening all aspects of your wellbeing. By taking steps now to preserve or rekindle your falling in love experience, you can build a meaningful relationship that lasts—even for a lifetime.
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. And identifying and fixing a small problem in your relationship now can often help prevent it from growing into a much larger one down road. The following tips can help you to preserve that falling in love experience and keep your romantic relationship healthy.
Tip 1: Spend quality time face to face
You fall in love looking at and listening to each other. If you continue to look and listen in the same attentive ways, you can sustain the falling in love experience over the long term. You probably have fond memories of when you were first dating your loved one. Everything seemed new and exciting, and you likely spent hours just chatting together or coming up with new, exciting things to try. However, as time goes by, the demands of work, family, other obligations, and the need we all have for time to ourselves can make it harder to find time together.
Many couples find that the face-to-face contact of their early dating days is gradually replaced by hurried texts, emails, and instant messages. While digital communication is great for some purposes, it doesn’t positively impact your brain and nervous system in the same way as face-to-face communication. Sending a text or a voice message to your partner saying “I love you” is great, but if you rarely look at them or have the time to sit down together, they’ll still feel you don’t understand or appreciate them. And you’ll become more distanced or disconnected as a couple. The emotional cues you both need to feel loved can only be conveyed in person, so no matter how busy life gets, it’s important to carve out time to spend together.
Commit to spending some quality time together on a regular basis. No matter how busy you are, take a few minutes each day to put aside your electronic devices, stop thinking about other things, and really focus on and connect with your partner.
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.
Focus on having fun together. 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 start getting in the way or old resentments start building up. Keeping a sense of humor can actually help you get through tough times, reduce stress and work through issues more easily. Think about playful ways to surprise your partner, like bringing flowers home or unexpectedly booking a table at their favorite restaurant. Playing with pets or small children can also help you reconnect with your playful side.
Tip 2: Stay connected through communication
Good communication is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship. When you experience a positive emotional connection with your partner, you feel safe and happy. When people stop communicating well, they stop relating well, and times of change or stress can really bring out the disconnect. It may sound simplistic, but as long as you are communicating, you can usually work through whatever problems you’re facing.
Tell your partner what you need, don’t make them guess.
It’s not always easy to talk about what you need. For one, many of us don’t spend enough time thinking about what’s really important to us in a relationship. And even if you do know what you need, talking about it can make you feel vulnerable, embarrassed, or even ashamed. But look at it from your partner’s point of view. Providing comfort and understanding to someone you love is a pleasure, not a burden.
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. So instead of letting resentment, misunderstanding, or anger grow when your partner continually gets it wrong, get in the habit of telling them exactly what you need.
Take note of your partner’s nonverbal cues
So much of our communication is transmitted by what we don’t say. Nonverbal cues, which include eye contact, tone of voice, posture, and gestures such as leaning forward, crossing your arms, or touching someone’s hand, communicate much more than words. When you can pick up on your partner’s nonverbal cues or “body language,” you’ll be able to tell how they really feel and be able to respond accordingly. For a relationship to work well, each person has to understand their own and their partner’s nonverbal cues. Your partner’s responses may be different from yours. For example, one person might find a hug after a stressful day a loving mode of communication—while another might just want to take a walk together or sit and chat.
It’s also important to make sure that what you say matches your body language. If you say “I’m fine,” but you clench your teeth and look away, then your body is clearly signaling you are anything but “fine.”
When you experience positive emotional cues from your partner, you feel loved and happy, and when you send positive emotional cues, your partner feels the same. When you stop taking an interest in your own or your partner’s emotions, you’ll damage the connection between you and your ability to communicate will suffer, especially during stressful times.
Be a good listener
While a great deal of emphasis in our society is put on talking, if you can learn to listen in a way that makes another person feel valued and understood, you can build a deeper, stronger connection between you. There’s a big difference between listening in this way and simply hearing. When you really listen—when you’re engaged with what’s being said—you’ll hear the subtle intonations in your partner’s voice that tells you how they’re really feeling and the emotions they’re trying to communicate. Being a good listener doesn’t mean you have to agree with your partner or change your mind. But it will help you find common points of view that can help you to resolve conflict.
Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated:
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