8 Traits of Healthy Relationships: the togetherness part.
By Denis “Woodja” Flanigan
1. Equitable. Rather than simply being a situation where everything is done 50-50, what really matters is that each partner feels that he or she gets out of the relationship what he or she puts into it. Each of us brings particular skills to a relationship. Those skills have different value or impact on the relationship. The way in which we apply those skills within the relationship can make a relationship feel equitable. Someone who does not seem to do much in a relationship can offer an invaluable asset to the relationship to make it feel equitable.
2. Satisfying Emotional Intimacy. Emotional intimacy is the sharing that one engages in with a partner. Emotional intimacy exists in the concern and care one shows his or her partner, and that his or her partner shows in return. Asking about and being willing to tell each other about the occurrences of your day—mundane and exciting—can enhance the emotional intimacy in the relationship. The level of sharing should also be equitable; most people do not want to hear more about his or her partner than he or she is willing to share at that stage of the relationship.
3. Satisfying Physical Intimacy. Sex and affection are two of the defining features of a romantic relationship. These can both be tricky topics since people have different levels of interest in them. The level of affection shared between partners should neither feel like too little or too much, and sometimes compromise is an important part of making the level of affection satisfying to both members. Frequency and type of sex may also need to be talked about in order to determine what would satisfy both partners. Where and when sex and affection are acceptable may need to be figured out as well. One person may not feel comfortable holding hands in public and the other may feel perfectly comfortable having sex in the car of a crowded parking lot.
4. Trust and Honesty. Trust and honesty can be thought of as two sides to the same coin; honesty begets trust and trust begets honesty. The best way to earn the trust of a partner is to be honest with him or her. Lying and holding secrets drains one’s energy and maintains a constant threat to the relationship. Being honest about who one is and admitting one’s own faults opens up the option for a partner to love that person for who he or she really is. This also means not being intentionally deceitful with one’s partner. Avoiding hurtful or shameful behaviors allows partners to be more honest with each other and therefore trust each other.
5. Safety and Support. Along with intimacy, safety and support is what draws us into relationships. Creating a space in which one’s partner can be emotionally vulnerable is an important part of experiencing intimacy. Knowing that one will be accepted and not ridiculed—regardless of why one feels bad—is important to feeling safe, and important to one’s mental health. Learning how to be there for one’s partner in the way that he or she needs you helps create an environment of love and concern—even when one does not understand why his or her partner feels the way he or she does.
6. Respect and Accountability. Treating one’s partner the way that he or she would like to be treated is one of the best ways to demonstrate respect. Respect might be thought of as engaging in behavior that honors one’s partner; in other words, avoiding behavior that would hurt or offend one’s partner. Likewise, taking responsibility for your actions, instead of blaming, denying, or deflecting the consequences of your actions, demonstrates respect for your partner. Reflecting upon why you acted in a way that disrespected your partner also helps you avoid repeating the same behavior. Asking for forgiveness may be easier than asking for permission, but it is also more likely to undermine a relationship.
7. Good Communication. Without communication, a relationship doesn’t exist. Without good communication, a good relationship cannot exist either. Good communication consists of not only figuring out the negatives of the relationship, but also building up the relationship through recognizing and celebrating the positives. Good communication also entails creating a space in which one feels safe to communicate. This means finding the right place and time and owning one’s feelings and perceptions (instead of becoming accusatory), and keeping an open mind about what one’s partner is experiencing and trying to convey.
Some basic rules to keep your conversations from becoming defensive include:
• Use “I-statements,” such as “I don’t like it when you flirt so much with other guys at the bar,” instead of “you-statements” such as “You flirt too much.”
• Do not contaminate arguments by bringing other unrelated complaints into a disagreement. Keep your conversation within scope instead of offering up a litany of offenses in addition to the primary concern.
• Do not overgeneralize your complaint by using claims such as “always,” “never,” or “whenever.” Maintain the scope of the argument to the particular situation at hand.
8. Commitment. Regardless of which realm one thinks of with regard to commitment (e.g., sexual, emotional, financial), it is the sense of connection between two partners. It is the glue of the relationship. Commitment is perhaps the most vulnerable to temptation—in its many forms. The degree to which one is willing to resist temptation and focus on and be satisfied with his or her partner determines the strength of one’s commitment, and in turn the strength of the relationship.
Denis “Woodja” Flanigan is a psychotherapist in private practice in Houston.
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