By Dr. Debra Brosius / Integrated Psychology Associates of McLean, LLC
In psychology, many researchers conceptualize relationship quality in terms of how satisfied each partner is in the relationship. This focuses on the hedonic dimension of the relationship (pleasure or happiness). But of course, there is more to healthy relationships than how good you feel. For example, relationships can be a source of meaning, which may include commitment, sacrifice, and personal growth. Contrary to a Hollywood idealized version of couplehood, relationships require work from each partner, and it’s normal for relationships to experience hard times. By using the strategies outlined here, you can improve your relationships and ideally keep them going strong. However, it requires both partners actively working to nurture the relationship.
Develop a strong emotional connection: According to psychology research, one of the most important predictors of a healthy relationship is being emotionally responsive. This involves sending cues (e.g., verbal, physical) to your partner
and having them respond to it (e.g., soothing, encouraging, etc).
Be vulnerable with each other: When partners engage in self-disclosure, this helps develop and strengthen mutual trust. Sharing our authentic selves with others is one aspect of happy, intimate relationships.
Be honest: This can go hand-in-hand with vulnerability, but also encompasses other forms of communication. A healthy relationship will likely not be based on lies. Have ‘healthy’ conflicts: Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship, but how you go about working through them is essential.
Try something new. This is especially helpful if your relationship feels stale, and it can reignite the spark (e.g., going to a new restaurant for date night).
Solve problems as a team: This can help strengthen your identity as an “us” instead of a “me” and “you” and develop your problem-solving skills together (e.g., this can range from parenting teens, budgeting finances to asking your partner for help with a problem at work).
Talk about your goals and dreams: Sharing similar hopes and values can help you reignite what attracted you to each other in the first place. Although it’s important to learn how to identify when a relationship is going well, it’s just as important to be aware of signs of an unhealthy relationship. Researchers have identified four key aspects of communication that can
contribute to unhealthy relationships.
Criticism. When you criticize someone, you are attacking them to the core of their character. This is different from offering a helpful opinion or voicing a
Contempt. Contempt goes beyond criticism as it encompasses your moral superiority over the other person. This can include mocking them, ridiculing,
calling them names, mimicking their body language, or scoffing. The intention is to make them feel unworthy, which is a terrible feeling to instill or receive from someone.
Defensiveness. It’s natural to be defensive sometimes, especially if you’re particularly stressed or tired. But defensive responses often shift the blame to the partner, which usually isn’t the best way to go. It tells the other person that you may not be taking them seriously and that you won’t own up to your mistakes.
Stonewalling. Stonewalling is often in response to contempt. This happens when the listener who is receiving sarcastic remarks or ridiculing comments ends up shutting down and no longer responds to the partner. They ‘stonewall’ the partner and try to avoid confrontation by acting busy, disengaging from the conservation, or simply leaving their presence.