9 Behaviors for a Healthy Relationship

9 Behaviors for a Healthy Relationship

I get a lot of questions about what makes a successful relationship, and while each relationship is unique, there are some standard behaviors you can employ that will propel you toward success. At first, this shift in behavior can feel clunky and even a little stressful. Don’t worry about it. If you practice this stuff enough, it’ll become a habit. And don’t get me wrong. Sure, on the one hand, it’s a challenging shift, but it’s also totally worth it.

Ok, so here we go.

1) If the iconic ‘80s show, The Facts of Life, taught us anything it was that “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both.” Accept your partner for the whole person they are, someone with wonderful gifts, adorable traits, and irritating quirks. It’s along the lines of a pick-your-battles situation. Everyone has flaws. You can’t change that. And seriously, you cannot change that so don’t try. It’s fine to fight about them. In fact, you will, and this is totally healthy (as long as you’re using fair fighting techniques). But if you want your relationship to be successful you’ll need to be able to accept your partner’s flaws and remember why you’re with them. Don’t be with someone if you think they’ll make a good partner as long as they change core parts about themselves. It’ll only invite hurt, drama, and resentment. Be with someone whose imperfections you can deal with on a regular basis.

2) Empathic honesty without blame is what it’s all about. You don’t have to be brutally honest. In fact, I don’t recommend it. You love this person and you’re expressing yourself honestly for your relationship to overcome something so, there’s no need to take an aggressive approach. You’ll also want to move away from using blame while delivering your honesty. It will be easier for your partner to listen and you’re message will be clearer if you leave blame out of it.

3) Communicate your needs, feelings, and experiences directly. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind; say what you need to say. Open and honest communication can be intimidating for a myriad of reasons, but it’s worth it. The alternative is clamming up about it and relying on dropping hints and passive aggressive communication. For the love of everything holy, please don’t do this. Your partner ends up getting confused (understandably) and you end up building resentment toward them when they inevitably don’t meet your needs. When you clearly and directly state your needs you not only avoid unnecessary strife, you also give your partner a chance to show up for you which builds trust and intimacy.

4) Don’t be a victim. Engaging a victim perspective positions you and your partner against one another which strips away the intimacy you’re working so hard to build. Instead, be a champion for yourself and advocate for what you need. Using number 2 and 3 is a great way to do this. When you communicate using empathic honesty and direct messaging you’ll feel empowered, and your partner will feel like a valued member of your partnership.     

5) Look for the best in your partner. You started dating this person for a reason. You’ve continued dating them for a reason. Once the initial excitement wears off, and you’ve gotten a few fights under your belt, it’s pretty easy to let those reasons fade from memory. The solution isn’t always easy, but it’s simple. Look for the best. Look for what your partner does right, for the loving intentions behind their behavior, and for what gifts your partner brings to your life. When you actively look for the reasons why you love your partner you become more supportive, more charitable, and more loving. You become a better partner. (Looking for the best in your partner also makes it much easier to put their mistakes and flaws into reasonable perspective.)

6) Stop keeping score. This is a kind of opposite to looking for the best in your partner. With score-keeping, not only are you looking for all the things they did wrong, but you’re also not letting mistakes become part of the past. There are many reasons for doing this. You might keep score so that you can hold it as currency. You might use these wrongdoings as reasons to do something you shouldn’t or to not do something you should. Or maybe you use them as a way to absolve yourself from your misdeeds. This hurts the relationship because you set the default to “look for the faults” with your partner instead of “look for the best.” Use number 1 to help you out with this. Remind yourself to be with your partner now, not yesterday, a week ago, five years ago. Remind yourself that you choose this person which means you choose to be with their mistakes. You might also feel tempted to keep score about sacrifices you make for the person, good deeds, and favors. Don’t. This is an effective way of building resentment on your end and mistrust of your gifts on theirs.

7) Spend time together, time engaged in parallel activities, and time apart. It’s not healthy to spend every waking second together so don’t. Couples need a balance of time together with various levels of engagement and time apart. The time you spend directly engaged with your partner is beneficial for building and maintaining intimacy. It gives you the chance to have shared experiences which can enrich the narrative of your relationship. Time spent together, but less engaged (like when one of you is playing Angry Birds, and the other is cooking, or you’re reading separate books) is also enriching and allows you to maintain your individuality while simultaneously enjoying the company of the other. The time you spend part from one another is critical for maintaining your relationship with yourself, your individuality, and your self-sufficiency. When you prioritize time apart, you allow yourselves to experience new things to take back and share with your partner which is also pretty attractive.

8) Let go of some conflicts. Of course, it’s important to address conflict and find resolutions, but there is such a thing as resolving something to death. The truth is, you’re just not going to resolve every single problem, and that’s ok. This is where numbers 1, 5, and 6 can help you out. Accept the other person’s differences and flaws, remember why you’re with them and don’t keep a tally of all the times they’ve hurt you or pissed you off. And know that you are going to have recurring disagreements and arguments; it’s part of being in a long term relationship.

9) Know when to let go of the relationship. This plays as big a role as the others in creating a successful relationship because said relationship might be the one after the relationship you’re in currently. Sometimes you’re ill-matched and there’s nothing you can do to change it since changing it would mean altering core parts of yourselves. Knowing when to end it helps you to bring the relationship to a close in a healthy way and move onto a more successful partnership whether that means being with yourself for a while or being with someone else. The important thing is to be in integrity with yourself and your values.


Love and Be Loved,

What You Need to Know Before You Break Up, Divorce, Or Separate

What You Need to Know Before You Break Up, Divorce, Or Separate

I see a lot of couples and individuals who seek help with their romantic relationships, marriages, and intimate partner relationships. The most common issue they bring involves some kind of change they would like to make in the way they communicate. This can mean a variety of things.

“We have problems with communication,” can mean that one partner wants the other to have mind-reading capabilities (which often results in resentment), difficulty taking responsibility (defensiveness and blame), unaddressed or unmanaged insecurities, frequent criticism by one or both partners, or shutting the other out. Often, all of these are present. This can be exhausting and discouraging. When this difficulty in “communication” has gone unmanaged long enough, people begin to wonder if it means a break-up is imminent. I hear the phrases “fresh start” and “clean slate” more than I can count. Often, people feel as if relief cannot be achieved fast enough.

A small background on humans and our emotions (and emotion management):

There are two brains that are responsible for our emotional life, the prefrontal cortex (logic) and the limbic system (emotion). The prefrontal cortex is in charge of our executive functioning. Because of our prefrontal cortex we can make decisions, calculations, and reason.

Our limbic system is our emotion center, the pain and pleasure centers, where our fight or flight responses originate. When activated, the limbic system releases adrenaline. Adrenaline interferes with/prohibits the prefrontal cortex from reasoning. If the limbic system is incredibly triggered, it releases a lot of adrenaline. If it is only slightly triggered, it releases less.

This system works great when we need to act without thinking. If in danger, we can quickly get to safety. The same system is less ideal when we need to think before we do or say something (which is most of the time). When we legitimately need immediate relief, it is an efficient interaction. When we feel like we need immediate relief (and are not actually in danger), we have our work cut out for us.

In short, when our lives are not in danger, our limbic system makes us stupid.

It’s common for people to experience stress involving the two brains in other aspects of their lives, too, not only in relationship. We look for a “fresh start” in many places- jobs, places of residence, careers, and groups for instance. It’s just as common for those who have begun a fresh start to find that they’ve made a mistake or that the problem has followed them. This can bring about feelings of anger, grief, confusion, desperation, and hopelessness.

We ask ourselves, “Should I stay or should I go?” (Because we like to simplify things, and we want to feel better yesterday.) It would benefit us to shift our thinking a bit and ask ourselves,

“What am I looking for? What would have to be true for me to have the experience I want?” This pattern of thinking sets the scene for a more curious, thoughtful mindset. Instead of piling reaction on top of reaction, we have the chance to clearly navigate our situations with intention and care.

I encourage you to do just that; ask yourself what you’re after and what would have to be true for this to be experienced. Give yourself time and space for thought and curiosity. To quote the adage- “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”

If you would like to find out more about strategies to manage your emotions, read my older entries, stay tuned for newer entries, or give me a call. Whatever you do, be patient and compassionate with yourself so that you can figure out what will work for you. You would probably rather have lasting relief over immediate (and usually short-lived) relief.


Love and Be Loved,