All couples seem to want the same thing from their intimate relationships. They want to be inspired, connected and excited about being together. Most know that being “in love” isn’t really enough. It takes good habits and a conscious commitment to practice them.
By the time people get to a Marriage Therapist, they are frequently feeling disconnected and lonely. They are wondering where the love has gone or whether they didn’t just choose the wrong person to love. They may be locked in a seemingly never-ending cycle of arguing and blaming.
The good news is that in today’s world there are a lot of resources for couples looking to change their relationship. There are countless articles, books, workshops and blogs by trained experts in the field of love and marriage. Young couples are coming to Premarital Therapy before problems arise in the hope of starting out on solid footing. Yet, despite all of this advice, the divorce rate is still hovering around 50% and marriage is still a difficult relationship to sustain.
I’ve taken years of experience working with couples and condensed tons of research down to these 8 essential tips and advice for a healthy relationship. If you and your partner struggle to implement them in a consistent way, you might consider getting some coaching from a Therapist with Advanced Certification in couples work.
1. Communicate directly about what makes you feel loved and cared for
Although this might sound obvious, it’s surprising how many people long for their partners to be “mind-readers”. Some even express that if their partner really loved them, they’d just know what they were looking for. In my experience, we tend to give love in the way that we hope to receive it. This is not necessarily what our spouse is looking for. Talk about what love looks like to you and be specific. This is an important communication tip.
2. Resolve conflict sooner than later
Avoiding conflict does not make it go away. Rather, when you fail to resolve it, it festers and becomes resentment. Make it a point to rid yourselves of bad communication habits such as failing to listen, shutting down, placating, criticizing, and arguing. Learning better tools is the work of long-term relationship and worth every bit of time and effort it takes.
3. Get to know each other better
When we are first falling in love, we have an innate curiosity about the other. Thinking that you know everything about your partner squelches your curiosity and deadens the relationship. Foster a desire to know more and more about your partner throughout the relationship to keep it exciting.
4. Accentuate the positive
Focusing on what’s wrong, or what you’re not getting from your partner, leads to criticism and defensiveness. In the often-quoted research by John Gottman, PhD, we know that it takes five positive interactions to undo just one negative one in an intimate relationship. Focus on your partner’s strengths and express gratitude often.
5. Listen deeply
Listen with your eyes, reach out and touch, lend your full presence to your partner. Nothing builds connection better than knowing that the other is truly interested. Frequently we listen just long enough to know how we want to respond or where to interrupt. Focus on trying to understand the nuances of your partner’s language and beliefs. Learn these three powerful words, “Tell Me More”.
6. Create and share your wildest dreams for the relationship
When was the last time, if ever, that the two of you sat down and talked about your highest aspirations for your relationship? Dreaming of what’s possible is a lovely way to work together on setting your relationship on it’s best path. Stating your highest mission allows you to focus on it, rather than on the day to day skirmishes that get in the way.
7. Explore sexual expectations
Often, good sex doesn’t “just happen”. It requires good communication and a sharing of what’s expected. When couples are in the early stages of relationship, their brains produce large doses of certain chemicals and hormones that make sex frequent and passionate. The abundance of one such hormone, vasopressin, creates great sexual arousal and attraction. As it begins to wear off, couples are faced with a need to talk about their sexual expectations and desires and to create meaningful sexual encounters.
8. Acknowledge the impact of your past
Our brains are wired for survival. One of the ways we are protected from hurt, is by remembering everything that’s ever hurt us before. When our partner triggers one of these memories, we react from the limbic part of our brain where there is no distinction between the past and the present. To truly understand ourselves and our partners, we must be willing to acknowledge the ways in which our past is influencing our emotions and behaviors.