With Valentine’s day around the corner, whether we like it or not, L-O-V-E is most likely in the forefront of our minds. Whether you have a special someone to spend it with, or are flying solo this year, the tenants of what constitutes a healthy intimate relationship can certainly be beneficial knowledge for us all. Next weeks post will focus on the road to getting over heartbreak or venturing back into the dating scene, but today, we will dedicate a blog to good old St. Valentine and share some of what we deem to be some of the most essential components to building and maintaining a healthy romantic relationship.
1) Communication & Healthy Conflict
This one comes as no surprise, we have all heard that ‘communication is key,’ but what does that mean? Communication itself is not the key, but healthy communication, rather. We are constantly communicating with our partners be it verbal or nonverbal, positive or negative. A roll of the eyes, the silent treatment, or a gentle smile are just as powerful as a kind word or a full blown argument. When professionals say it is important to have this essential ‘communication’ in a relationship, they are referring to the fact that both parties must communicate their needs in a transparent way, with respect and honesty. For example, passive aggressiveness is not a healthy form of communication as it does not overtly express one’s needs or genuine feelings about any given matter. A more effective way to communicate is to be forthright with our partners about anything from what is bothering us to what we would like to do on the weekends. Now, it is of course unrealistic to assume that everyone will have the same communication style. Research by experts in the field has actually uncovered 5 distinct communication styles that undoubtedly have an effect on how couples will communicate with one another. They are the following; assertive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, submissive, and manipulative. If you are interested in determining which style you and your partner possess, there is a wealth of great information available online that we encourage you to explore. The unique interplay of two communication styles can definitely have an impact on couple communication, however, the trick to maintaining healthy interaction, is to know yours and your partner’s style, and and acknowledge the differences between you. Once you can accept that you may not have the same way of expressing yourselves, you can make efforts to accommodate each other so that you both feel you are being heard and having your needs met. With regard to conflict, lack thereof is actually not a sign of a healthy relationship. Conflict is important in intimate relationships as it allows couples to work together on problem solving and desired resolutions. The key to a healthy relationship is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of healthy and effective communication in resolving it.
2) Affectionate Touching
Studies have invariably shown the powerful effects of ‘touching’ on relationships. In fact, it often arises as one of the most essential components of a happy marriage. When we say ‘touching,’ we do not necessarily mean intense passion and eroticism, although those can of course play a role in marital satisfaction, but refer rather to the kind of compassionate touching that is present in the touch of a hand, kiss on the cheek, or gentle massage of the shoulders. This kind of affectionate ‘touching’ is essential as it can convey genuine love, gratitude, compassion, and appreciation without uttering a single word. It can often speak louder than words as it is far more intimate than something you can well say to anyone. Such touching is often reserved for the individuals we care most deeply about, which says a lot about its meaning. The research on this topic is consistent in discovering that the happiest couples practice regular affectionate touching. Sometimes all it takes is a small brush of the cheek to show someone you care.
3) Self Love
We are strong advocates of this one, as we truly believe it is the basis of any healthy relationship, be it romantic, amicable, or otherwise. Self love can be confused with selfishness or narcissism, but it is truly everything but. Self love stems from a deep, non-judgmental acceptance of the self with all its flaws, and prioritization of the self with regards to needs and desires. This is not the same thing as putting yourself ahead of others, or neglecting to care about or consider others for your own gain. That, we would call selfishness among other things. Self Love is about making yourself a priority among other priorities and appreciating yourself as a worth individual and, well lovable being. Why might this be important in the context of a romantic relationship? Because it is difficult to find true fulfillment in a relationship when we don’t feel worthy of love. In other words, if we do not love, or at least accept ourselves and view ourselves as worthy, we cannot firstly expect others to love us, or truly accept love from others. Further, when we neglect our own needs, we consequently become inferior caregivers. You cannot effectively tend to the needs of another if you neglect yourself. Lastly on this topic we feel so passionately about, self love is, well, ‘sexy.’ We are drawn to confident individuals with a strong sense of self. It arouses respect, and interest, which brings me to my next tip.
4) Be your own person
In the context of a romantic relationship, when we are so overcome with love and affection for our partners, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of self. It is fine and quite admirable to love someone passionately, with your whole heart, but be sure not to lose yourself in the process. It is important to maintain your own ‘life,’ if you will, for several reasons. Firstly, it keeps things interesting and gives you an opportunity to enjoy experiences outside the context of your romantic relationship, which you can then share with your significant other, it allows you to fulfill friendship and other personal needs as it is unrealistic to expect your partner to fulfill every single one of your needs, and it allows you to grow and evolve as a person outside of your union with another, which ultimately contributes to the health of your relationship. How? It maintains mystery, interest, and respect by allowing your significant other to view you as the independent, interesting, and complex individual with their own set of hobbies, dreams and desires. This does not mean that you cannot share everything with the person you love, or fully immersing yourself in each others’ lives, it simply means that you should never compromise your own individual passions, needs, interests, or desires to maintain your relationship. Losing yourself to your relationship will never bring you true fulfillment.
Yes, we said it, but with an air of caution; you should never accept mistreatment or behavior you find to be abusive in any way, or simply painful, we mean this in the context of idiosyncratic or habitual behaviors that may irritate you in your significant other. There comes a time when we need to accept that our partner may never stop snoring, or leaving tea bags all over the kitchen counter, or failing to return our messages promptly. These are the things we need to think about. Can we live with these behaviors? Most of the time, we can, and we are not willing to give up our rich, loving, and fulfilling relationships because of small details we deem insignificant. Being kind and patient with both yourself and your significant other will promote healthy communication as well as good emotional and physical health, and overall contentment and relationship satisfaction. True happiness begins when we can accept the trivial things we cannot change, and see the bigger picture.
We wish you the very happiest St. Valentine’s day, regardless of your views of the ‘holiday,’ your plans for the weekend, or your relationship status. Every day of the year has the potential to be a happy one!