“The giving of love is an education in itself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Relationships have the capacity to provide us with emotional support, nurturance, friendship, and love. The very same relationships are also capable of causing emotional distress, deprivation, and loneliness. The difference between those two types of relationships is that the healthy relationship rests upon a foundation built of mutual support, respect, trust, friendship, shared vision, and love.
A supportive and healthy relationship resembles a partnership wherein both people feel loved and supported in the ways they appreciate love and support… not in the way that their partner’s insist on giving love and support. There is a crucial distinction to be made between loving someone as we wish to be loved versus loving someone as they wish to be loved. As we move into mature adulthood, it becomes increasingly important to be cognizant of this difference and adjust our behaviors accordingly.
Truths of Maintaining Healthy Relationships
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, psychotherapist and Psychology Today blogger, explains 10 simple truths to maintain a healthy relationship:
(1) Successful relationships take work
Relationships that thrive do so because both partners are willing to spend time and energy towards the “health” of the relationship. This means paying attention to what your partner tells you, how they are feeling, and what is happening in their lives. Choose to take the risk of opening yourself up to your partner and share with him or her what is going on in your inner and outer worlds.
(2) You can only change yourself, not your partner
If you behave in controlling ways in your relationship, it only serves to foster resentment and emotional distance from your partner. No one likes to be controlled or told what to do, especially not someone who is supposed to be engaged in an equal partnership with you. If you have grievances in your relationship, make the choice to discuss them openly, directly, and with love. Recognize that the only person whose behavior you can control is you.
(3) All arguments stem from our own pain or fear
When conflict occurs in relationships, it is often the consequence of some of our own deep-seated needs not being met, from some inner emotional pain, or some unresolved fear. The next time you experience a conflict in your relationship, choose to take a step back for a moment to gain perspective. Really notice with mindfulness what happened and ask yourself what words, thoughts, or actions triggered an emotional response in you. We are often upset for reasons that are not superficially apparent. Look beneath the surface and identify what is going on for you (e.g., disappointment, fear, resentment, etc.)
(4) Recognize that men and women are different
While we all, as human beings, share the same basic need for love and belonging, we often go about addressing these needs in very different ways according to our socialized gender roles. While masculinity and femininity rests upon a broad spectrum that means much more than one’s identity as male or female, begin to notice if your communication style and emotional needs fall into a more masculine or feminine way of relating. There is no “right” way to be – the important thing is recognizing and celebrating your differences with your partner.
(5) Honor each other in some way every day
This can be as simple as having a regular morning ritual of kissing one another goodbye as you leave for the day or greeting one another in a special way at the end of each day. The important thing here is that you make the effort to set aside special rituals as ways of reconnecting with and reaffirming your commitment to your partner. Even if you have been married for decades, choosing to honor and love each other in a special way each day builds up the “emotional bank account” of your relationships with loving emotions.
(6) Let go of anger
Anger is a waste of your time and energy… not to mention that anger easily destroys relationships. When you are consumed by anger, it is difficult to notice the positive, loving, and pleasant events around you. Essentially, anger has a tendency to put you “on guard” to watch out for even more things to get angry about. Recognize when anger is justified and when it is not. When it is, use your anger constructively and take the opportunity to openly discuss the source of your discontent with your partner. Even when anger is justified, you should always be mindful to avoid what Drs. John and Julie Gottman call the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
(7) Get regular tune-ups
Take the time to periodically reassess the overall “health” of your relationship. Notice where you and your partner are experiencing harmony, strength, and togetherness, and where you are experiencing some struggles. Recognize that it is not a sign of weakness to seek help for your relationship… on the contrary, seeking help is a sign of strength because it shows that you are willing to allow yourself to be vulnerable and are wise enough to know when to ask for help. A simple activity of reading a chapter or two from a relationship-strengthening self-help book one night a week (or a month!) is a wonderful way to stay mindfully attuned to the health of your relationship.
(8) Become and stay best friends
Part of developing and maintaining an intimate friendship with your partner is to become familiar with his or her likes, dislikes, dreams, hopes, values, and fears. The Gottmans refer to this process of getting to know your partner fully as building your “love maps” together. This means taking the time to really get to know your partner as a human being… what makes them tick, how do they think about people and things, what are their most powerful memories, what are their dreams for the future, etc. When you take the time to build and maintain a friendship with your partner, you have a solid foundation to come back to as a couple.
(9) Be responsible for your own happiness
No one else in the world can make you truly happy but you. While other people can bring great joy into our lives, there is a deeper level of happiness that comes as a result of feeling secure with yourself, confident in who you are and what your values are, and a knowledge that while you are overjoyed to have your partner in your life, you would survive without them. This is a mature adult love that recognizes that a relationship is the merging of two individual lives, but not the merging of two individuals into one. You must still be able to maintain the sense of where “you” end and “they” begin. Make yourself happy and you will have more joy and love to give.
(10) Give what you want to get
If you find yourself wanting to feel more understood by your partner, try being more understanding. The idea is that rather than complain or harbor resentment about what you feel like you’re not getting from your partner, instead channel that energy on giving what you feel is lacking to your partner. This is different than giving the type of support you want to receive. Support should always be given to your partner in the way that they need to be supported. This shows that you truly understand, respect, and love your partner for who they are.
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Goldsmith, B. (2011, July 11). 10 truths to keep your relationship healthy [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201107/10-truths-keep-your-relationship-healthy
Featured image: Happy Finger Friends Love by Pink Sherbet Photography / CC BY 2.0