Everyone’s relationship is unique, and people come together for many different reasons. But there are some things that good relationships have in common. Knowing the basic principles of healthy relationships helps keep them meaningful, fulfilling, and exciting in both happy times and sad:
What makes a healthy love relationship?
- Staying involved with each other. Some relationships get stuck in peaceful coexistence, but without truly relating to each other and working together. While it may seem stable on the surface, lack of involvement and communication increases distance. When you need to talk about something important, the connection and understanding may no longer be there.
- Getting through conflict. Some couples talk things out quietly, while others may raise their voices and passionately disagree. The key in a strong relationship, though, is not to be fearful of conflict. You need to be safe to express things that bother you without fear of retaliation, and be able to resolve conflict without humiliation, degradation, or insisting on being right.
- Keeping outside relationships and interests alive. No one person can meet all of our needs, and expecting too much from someone can put a lot of unhealthy pressure on a relationship. Having friends and outside interests not only strengthens your social network, but brings new insights and stimulation to the relationship, too.
- Communicating. Honest, direct communication is a key part of any relationship. When both people feel comfortable expressing their needs, fears, and desires, trust and bonds are strengthened. Nonverbal cues—body language like eye contact, leaning forward or away, or touching someone’s arm—are critical to communication.
Relationship advice tip 1: Keep physical intimacy alive
Touch is a fundamental part of human existence. Studies on infants have shown the importance of regular, loving touch and holding on brain development. These benefits do not end in childhood. Life without physical contact with others is a lonely life indeed.
Studies have shown that affectionate touch actually boosts the body’s levels of oxytocin, a hormone that influences bonding and attachment. In a committed relationship between two adult partners, physical intercourse is often a cornerstone of the relationship. However, intercourse should not be the only method of physical intimacy in a relationship. Regular, affectionate touch—holding hands, hugging, or kissing—is equally important.
Be sensitive to what your partner likes. While touch is a key part of a healthy relationship, it’s important to take some time to find out what your partner really likes. Unwanted touching or inappropriate overtures can make the other person tense up and retreat—exactly what you don’t want.
Relationship advice tip 2: Spend quality time together
You probably have fond memories of when you were first dating your loved one. Everything may have seemed new and exciting, and you may have spent hours just chatting together or coming up with new, exciting things to try. However, as time goes by, children, demanding jobs, long commutes, different hobbies and other obligations can make it hard to find time together. It’s critical for your relationship, though, to make time for yourselves. If you don’t have quality time, communication and understanding start to erode.
Learning how to play again
A little humor and playful interaction can go a long way in relieving tense situations and helping you see the brighter side. If you’re feeling a little rusty, learn more about how playful communication can improve your relationship, and for fun ways to practice this skill.
Relationship advice tip 3: Never stop communicating
Good communication is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship. When people stop communicating well, they stop relating well, and times of change or stress can really bring out disconnect. As long as you are communicating, you can work through whatever problem you’re facing.
Learn your partner’s emotional cues
Each of us is a little different in how we best receive information. Some people might respond better to sight, sound, or touch. Your partner’s responses may be different from yours. Take some time to learn your partner’s cues, and be sure to communicate your own as well. For example, one person might find a brief massage after a stressful day a loving mode of communication—while another might just want to talk over a hot cup of tea.
So much of our communication is transmitted by what we don’t say. Nonverbal cues—such as eye contact, leaning forward or away, or touching someone’s arm—communicate much more than words. For a relationship to work well, each person has to be receptive to sending and receiving nonverbal cues. Learning to understand this “body language” can help you better understand what your partner is trying to say. Think about what you are transmitting as well, and if what you say matches what you feel. If you say “I’m fine,” but you clench your teeth and look away, then your body is clearly signaling you are not.
Question your assumptions
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 directly express your needs 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. Getting in the habit of expressing your needs helps you weather difficult times, which otherwise may lead to increasing resentment, misunderstanding, and anger.
Use your senses to keep stress in check
If you’re not calm and focused, you won’t be able to communicate effectively. The best way to reduce stress quickly and reliably is through the senses. But each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find things that are soothing to you.
Relationship advice tip 4: Healthy relationships are built on give and take
If you expect to get what you want 100% of a time in a relationship, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Healthy relationships are built on compromise, and it takes work on each person’s part to make sure that there is a reasonable exchange.
Recognize what’s important to your partner
Knowing what is truly important to your partner can go a long way towards building goodwill and an atmosphere of compromise. On the flip side, it’s also important for your partner to recognize your wants and for you to state them clearly. Constantly compromising your needs for others' will build resentment and anger.
Don’t make “winning” your goal
If you approach your partner with the attitude that things have to be your way or else, it will be difficult to reach a compromise. Sometimes this attitude comes from not having your needs met while you were younger, or it could be from years of accumulated resentment building up in your current relationship. It’s all right to have strong convictions about something, but your partner deserves to be heard as well. You are more likely to get your needs met if you respect what your partner needs, and compromise when you can.
Learn how to respectfully resolve conflict
Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, but to keep a relationship strong, both people need to feel they’ve been heard. The goal is not to win but to resolve the conflict with respect and love.
- Make sure you are fighting fair.
- Don’t attack someone directly; use “I” statements to communicate how you feel.
- Don’t drag old arguments into the mix.
- Keep the focus on the issue at hand, and respect the other person.
Relationship advice tip 5: Expect ups and downs
It’s also important to recognize that there are ups and downs in every relationship. You won’t always be on the same page. Sometimes one partner may be struggling with an issue that stresses them, such as the death of a close family member. Other events, like job loss or severe health problems, can affect both partners and make it difficult to relate to each other. You might have different ideas of managing finances or raising children. Different people cope with stress differently, and misunderstanding can rapidly turn to frustration and anger.
Relationship advice for getting through life’s ups and downs
- Don’t take out your problems on your partner. Life stresses can make us short tempered. If you are coping with a lot of stress, it might seem easier to snap at your partner. Fighting like this might initially feel like a release, but it slowly poisons your relationship. Find other ways to vent your anger and frustration.
- Some problems are bigger than both of you. Trying to force a solution can cause even more problems. Every person works through problems and issues in his or her own way. Remember that you’re a team. Continuing to move forward together can get you through the rough spots.
- Be open to change. Change is inevitable in life, and it will happen whether you go with it or fight it. Flexibility is essential to adapt to the change that is always taking place in any relationship, and it allows you to grow together through both the good times and the bad.
- Don’t ignore problems. Whatever problems arise in a romantic relationship, it’s important to face them together as a couple. If an aspect of the relationship stops working, don’t simply ignore it, but instead address it with your partner. Things change, so respond to them together as they do.
If you need more relationship help and advice
Sometimes problems in a relationship may seem too complex or overwhelming for a couple to handle on their own. In that case, it’s important to reach out together for help. There are a number of options available, including:
- Couples counseling. It’s a big investment, and time, energy, focus and commitment are needed from both people to make a difference, but you might consider couples or marriage counseling to resolve your differences. Both parties need to be willing and able to honestly communicate what he or she needs, face the issues that arise in counseling, and then make the necessary changes. It’s important also that both people feel comfortable with the counselor.
- Spiritual advice. Some couples benefit from spiritual advice from a religious figure such as a pastor or rabbi. This tends to work best if both persons have similar convictions of faith and have a good relationship with the spiritual advisor.
- Emotional Intelligence building. Try using Helpguide's Emotional Intelligence Toolkit, a free utility for building emotional health and emotional intelligence. This in-depth course provides articles, videos, and audio meditations designed to help you put the skills of emotional intelligence and communication into practice.
- Individual therapy. Sometimes one person may need specialized help. For example, someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one may need counseling to help him or her process the grief. If your loved one needs help, don’t feel like you are a failure for not providing him or her everything he or she needs. No one can fulfill everyone’s needs, and getting the right help can make a tremendous difference in your relationship.