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Key Ingredients in Creating and Maintaining
a Healthy Relationship

by Dave Decker M.A.

 

A healthy relationship with a partner can be difficult. It takes an investment of time, energy, and emotion and a commitment to work at your relationship in an ongoing fashion. In reality, BOTH partners need to be willing to make this a priority if it is actually going to happen. Punishing, disrespectful, and explosive anger always create hurt, resentment, mistrust, and emotional distance in intimate relationships. Learning to handle anger more effectively, since it is impossible to avoid, is a critical step to having and maintaining a healthy relationship.

Below are some ideas about how to make your relationship more satisfying and fulfilling in other ways as well. Use this section to identify additional places where you can commit to do some things differently to improve your relationship and your life with one another.

PRIOR TO ENTERING A RELATIONSHIP
(OR AT ANY POINT, IF NECESSARY)

1) DEVELOP SELF-KNOWLEDGE, SELF-AWARENESS, AND SELF-ESTEEM TO BE READY AS AN INDIVIDUAL TO BE INVOLVED IN A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP
Understand how you have become the person you are today and how who you are affects your relationship with a partner
...be clear about the impact of your family of origin and your childhood experiences on who you are as a person and how you view others and the world around you
...think about how your parents' relationship with each other and their relationships with you and your siblings have affected the way that you look at yourself and your relationship with a partner in the present
Know yourself and both your strengths and shortcomings
Know and take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, actions, and inaction
...be aware of your “shadow side” and how that can affect your life and your relationship with a partner
Don’t compromise critical aspects of who you want and know yourself to be
Stay open to continuing to learn more about yourself as an individual through the relationship with your partner
...partners can be great “teachers:” they live with us, see us at our best and worst, and probably know us as well as anyone in our lives
...plan to use their “expertise” about you to help you heal, change, and grow as a person
...don’t stop learning about yourself: it’s a lifelong process

2) BE CLEAR WITH YOURSELF AND WITH A PROSPECTIVE (OR CURRENT) PARTNER ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE ACTUALLY LOOKING FOR IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH ANOTHER PERSON
Avoid falling in the trap of looking only for and expecting the “magic” and “chemistry” that is so much a part of the “infatuation phase” of a relationship (that early time in the relationship when you are “head over heels’ in love and can’t stop thinking about and wanting to be with the other person). It doesn’t last and your connection needs to be built on something significantly more substantive if your relationship is to become a mature and intimate adult connection with a partner.
Develop two lists for yourself to help you identify the qualities most important to you in a partner
...A list of “MUST HAVES” which are absolutely critical, in your mind, to the success of your relationship (these are the “deal-breakers”)
...e.g. it might be something that some people would consider “minor” like being a nonsmoker or a dog lover or it could include qualities that most people would consider to be very important like “being honest and truthful,” “being a good listener,” or “wants to have children”
...A list of “WOULD LIKES” which are qualities that are preferable in a partner but that are not absolutely necessary to you
e.g. someone who “likes to travel and see new places,” “enjoys the arts and theater,” “likes being out in nature,” or “is committed to working out and staying physically fit”
Watch out for being too rigid and perfectionistic and having unrealistically high expectations that no one could possibly live up to
...You’re not likely to find a partner if you do this

ONCE YOU ARE INVOLVED IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH A PARTNER

3) DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN A SPIRIT OF INTEGRITY, TRUST, COMMITMENT AND LOVE
Be honest with yourself and your partner
...avoid “lies of commission” (e.g. being overtly dishonest) or “lies of omission” (e.g. not sharing important information that you should be sharing with your partner)
Be faithful to your partner emotionally and sexually
...an affair is a significant betrayal of the trust and the emotional bond you have with your partner
...in addition, watch out for “affairs” with TV, work, playing video games or sports, surfing the internet, alcohol use, gambling, and the like where you become “consumed” by an activity or substance that effectively and essentially removes you from time and emotional connection with a partner
Make the conscious decision to trust your partner
...unless they actually do something to violate your trust
Be loving and consistent in your attitudes and actions toward your partner in your day-to- day life
...keep in mind that “LOVE IS A CHOICE” which you either make or do not make in your daily life with your partner
...love is NOT just that overwhelming emotional state that is often associated with the infatuation phase of a relationship
...remember that "LOVE IS AN ACTION VERB" and actually involves how you think about and what you do with one another
...i.e. how you treat each other from moment to moment in your lives together
...stay aware that people have different ways that they experience love from their partner (e.g. verbal expressions of love, physical affection, making efforts to connect and spend time with one another, doing tangible and practical things for the other person)
...get to know what you need in order to feel loved and get to know what your partner needs in order to feel loved
...they are often not the same
Follow through with what you say you will do and with what you say you will not do
...make and keep your commitments (large and small) with one another
Acknowledge your mistakes and apologize and make amends whenever necessary
Understand and accept the natural "ebb and flow" in your relationship
...keep in mind that you won't feel “deeply connected” and "deeply in love" during every moment of your life together
Focus more on “giving love” than on “getting love” with your partner

4) MAINTAIN CLEAR AND HEALTHY BOUNDARIES TO PROMOTE TOLERANCE, ACCEPTANCE, AND RESPECT
Openly recognize, discuss, respect, appreciate, and even delight in your partner's differences, changes, and personal growth
...don’t expect that your partner should “always stay the same” in your relationship together
Stay aware of and intervene in your desire to control who you think your partner should be
...lead by example, not by dictating, commanding, or lecturing
Detach in a healthy way at times from your partner's issues, problems, moods, and feelings to avoid becoming codependent or controlling
...be clear that he or she is a separate person from you, not simply an extension of who you are
Respect your partner's privacy
...e.g. avoid reading diaries and journals, checking e-mail, text, and phone records, or listening in on phone calls without your partner’s knowledge or permission

5) DEVELOP AND USE COMMUNICATION SKILLS TO PROMOTE EMOTIONAL CLOSENESS AND CONNECTION
Work to understand the differences in the ways men and women are socialized to view the world and communicate
...in general, men tend to use communication to establish status and independence; women tend to use communication to emotionally connect with another person
...in general, men tend to offer solutions to problems; women tend to listen and express sympathy and empathy
Make time to talk with your partner and actually set aside regular times to connect (be proactive and planful about doing this)
...find specific times to connect (e.g. at the end of the day; on the weekends)
...turn off the TV and stay away from the phone and the computer at those times
Stay curious about your partner and their way of looking at the world
...don’t assume you know everything about the other person
...e.g. their feelings, thoughts, opinions, intentions, and motives
...ask open-ended questions, really listen to how they respond, and make it a part of your understanding about who they are and how they see the world
Practice active listening and paraphrasing to better understand each others’ thoughts, feelings, and perspectives
Allow yourself to experience, identify, and assertively share all the emotions you experience
Express your wants and needs directly and respectfully without the expectation that the other person will necessarily meet them in exactly the way you have in mind
Think about and tell your partner what you like, appreciate, and value about them
...communicating ”positives” is a critical part of building and maintaining intimacy: DO THIS ALOT!
Offer encouragement to your partner about who they are, what they do, and who they want to become
...recognize that change is a “given” (hopefully) in your partner, in you, and in your relationship as the years go by in your relationship together
Listen to your partner’s feedback and reactions to you and use what you hear as a helpful “reality test” in the way that you look at yourself, your relationship, and the world around you
...they probably know you better than anyone else in your life
Stay current in sharing your hurts and frustrations with your partner so you don't allow resentment and bitterness to build up and poison your relationship

6) DEVELOP AND USE EFFECTIVE CONFLICT RESOLUTION STRATEGIES TO PROMOTE SAFETY, COOPERATION, AND DECISION-MAKING
Identify, talk openly, and be flexible about the “rules” in your relationship
...every relationship has “rules” (spoken or unspoken) that we often bring into our time together from earlier life experiences
...renegotiate these “rules” when necessary rather than simply living by the rules you bring into the relationship and expecting your partner to do the same
Moderate the intensity of your anger with one another
...learn to take respectful time-outs when your anger is escalating toward a power struggle, punishing or explosive behavior, or an unproductive outcome
Be aware of and intervene in negative, hostile, cynical, vengeful, or competitive self-talk
Be clear about what disrespectful and abusive behavior is and don't engage in it
...decide and talk about what behaviors are “okay” and what behaviors are “not okay” when conflict occurs between you
Change your basic goal in conflict resolution from idea that “we have to agree with each other” to the idea that “we need to truly understand each other’s position and perspective”
Develop and use practical guidelines for addressing and resolving conflicts
Work hard to understand the “meaning” or “purpose” behind your own and your partner’s perspective on any important issue that comes between you and communicate this underlying message to each other
Learn to negotiate and compromise
Learn to “agree to disagree” at times
...You can actually do this with most of the things you argue about
Begin to realize that many, if not most (69%, according to couples researcher John Gottman), of your conflicts with your partner may never be completely resolved
Learn to accept "no's" from your partner and limits your partner sets with you
Learn to forgive your partner for mistakes they make and actively work toward an empathetic and compassionate attitude toward one another

7) PROVIDE EMOTIONAL SUPPORT FOR ONE ANOTHER TO PROMOTE NURTURANCE
Work hard to be affirming, validating, and encouraging in good and bad times
Know, accept, share, and support your partner's vision for themselves
Actively look for specific ways you can give to your partner and the relationship

8) BUILD FUN AND PLAY INTO YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Let your spontaneous and fun-loving "inner child" connect with your partner's inner child at times
...having child-like fun and involvement and maintaining an attitude of “light-heartedness” with one another
Nurture your own and your partner’s senses of humor
Take plenty of time to laugh together about life’s “weirdness”
Use playful banter, affectionate teasing, and "pet names" into your time together
...e.g. “sweetie pea,” “honey bunch,” “dew melon,”
Avoid the trap of thinking that “being an adult means that you always have to act ‘stiff,‘ serious and somber”
...allow yourselves to act “silly” and goofy” with one another at times
Watch out for using sarcasm as a substitute for being honest about your anger and resentment with one another

9) DEVELOP AND SHARE A VISION FOR YOURSELVES IN THE CONTEXT OF THE RELATIONSHIP
Set common mutually-agreed-upon goals for yourselves and your relationship
...e.g. regarding whether or not to have children, how to handle your finances, buying and owning a home, taking vacations, and planning your retirement
Develop couple and family rituals and traditions
...rituals help us make and keep emotional connection and communicate a sense of trust and safety in the relationship
...rituals create predictability and intentionality in our lives together
...rituals can assist us in staying connected despite our differences and conflicts
...e.g. reading the newspaper together on weekend mornings; attending religious services and kids’ activities together; Saturday or Sunday brunches or dinners; anniversary and birthday celebrations; celebrating your relationship on Valentine’s Day; special holiday activities; going to movies, plays, or sporting events you both enjoy; hello and goodbye hugs and kisses; sharing a glass of iced tea or wine in the back yard or in your living room at the end of a long day; exercising at a gym together
Develop a sense of mission or purpose about something (e.g. a “cause”) outside your relationship
...e.g. working for a political candidate or party; serving meals at a homeless shelter; building a “Habitat for Humanity” home; joining a group going to another country to provide services for the people there

10) STRIVE FOR EQUALITY IN FAMILY DECISION-MAKING AND TASKS
• Work hard to make important family decisions together
Talk about and make conscious choices about having children, career issues, where you will live, what vehicles you will purchase, how household and parenting chores will be divided, how you will handle your finances, and other important areas of your life together

11) BUILD ROMANCE INTO YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Look for ways to rekindle your passion for one another that you felt when you first met, e.g.
...flowers
...cards, letters, and notes that share your appreciation and love for one another
...candlelight dinners
...walking or biking together in nature
...day trips or weekends away as a couple
...vacations for just the two of you
Think back about and work to keep in mind what attracted you to your partner when you first got together and about the special times you have had with one another in the past

12) DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN PHYSICAL AFFECTION IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Share non-sexual and nurturing physical affection regularly
...e.g. sharing hugs and kisses, holding hands when you are walking together, sitting close to each other on the couch, "cuddling" time in bed before you fall asleep or at other times
Connect through mutually-satisfying and non-coercive sensual and sexual involvement
...e.g. back rubs, foot rubs, and other massage; spending time together in the sauna or whirlpool; being sexually intimate with one another
• Be open and talk about what feels good in your physical relationship together and what your “wants” are regarding affection and sexuality

13) SPEND TIME TOGETHER
Look for opportunities to emotionally connect during the week
...e.g. using phone calls, e-mails, and text messages to one another to say hello and check in at times during the day, going out for coffee or to lunch occasionally, going to bed together at night at least some of the time during the week, attending church together, doing grocery shopping and other mundane tasks together at times
Set aside regular time to do activities as a couple (e.g. “date nights”) and as a family
Relax together at times when nothing needs to be done or accomplished
...e.g. reading the newspaper together on Saturday or Sunday mornings

14) TAKE EMOTIONAL RISKS IN YOUR ACTIVITIES TOGETHER
Take initiative to try new and different experiences in your life
...don't stay stuck in only doing the activities you know, like, and feel comfortable with
Be open to your partner's interests and friends

15) SPEND TIME APART
Avoid molding yourself around your partner and their interests, activities, and friends and thus giving up who you are or expecting that your partner will do this for you
Maintain your own unique and separate identity in the context of a close and intimate relationship with your partner
Take time for yourself and with your own friends
Develop your own hobbies, interests, and recreational activities
...what you bring to your relationship from outside people and experiences can add zest, interest, and spirit to your life together

16) WORK TOGETHER AS A TEAM IN PARENTING
(IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN)
Realize how your current parenting style is affected by how you were raised in your family of origin by your own parents or caretakers
Talk openly with your partner about how you want to parent and discuss why you feel the way that you do about your parenting style
...and listen and be open to your partner's perspective on child-rearing
Make conscious decisions about how many children you will have and when they will be born
...if possible, develop your relationship with one another before you even decide to have children
Work together in making decisions that affect your children
...e.g. strategize together about discipline and consequences
Attend a parenting class (together or alone) to learn more about how to be an effective, respectful, and loving parent

17) SEEK HELP AND ASSISTANCE FROM OUTSIDE AND ACTIVELY USE IT WHEN YOU NEED TO DO SO
Read books, talk with friends and relatives, and become involved with support groups, workshops, or a therapist when you feel stuck, adrift, or disconnected in your relationship
Be open to others' ideas and suggestions and make them a part of your relationship whenever appropriate


In the end, being a partner in a healthy relationship means being a good friend, or even a “best friend,” for that person with whom you have decided to share your life. And this means being that friend through the good times, the bad times, and even the doldrums of your everyday living together.

Difficult and “boring “ times are a given in your individual life and in your relationship with a partner. Conflict and disagreement are always a part of an intimate relationship. The bedrock to effectively moving through those boring or difficult times or the conflict that inevitably comes up between the two of you involves maintaining warmth, positive regard, and respect for that other person, no matter what is going on in your life, in your partner’s life, or in your relationship with one another.

Differences between you and your partner, many of which will probably never be completely resolved, become much less important when you are able to maintain this way of looking at the person with whom you have chosen to spend your life.

 

© 1990 David J. Decker, MA, LP
Phone: 612-725-8402 or 651-646-4325 - www.ANGEResources.com

 

 

     

 

 

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