Principles of good relationships
We know that good relationships take work and the time and energy we put in to our romantic relationships can make all the difference to our happiness. This article explores the principles of good relationships and offers ways to ensure your communication and behaviour towards each other are supportive and loving.
Accept that relationships need time and attention
Relationships are the stuff of life and are deeply important to all of us. But they can be complex, difficult and painful. Overall relationships will be helped by an acceptance that both parties need to pay attention to their union and to each other. Your coupledom will evolve over time and every stage can throw up challenges for us individually as well as between you as a pair. Life transitions can also present unexpected difficulties which may require you to make unwanted adjustments, further testing your partnership.
One of the most important elements of a satisfying, fulfilling relationship is the Quality of the emotional connectedness between you.
The best way to nurture this sense and to keep it present is to:
Talk and share together openly and regularly
This means really listening to one another. This can't be emphasised enough and it's one of the key reasons couples seek therapeutic help. Communication difficulties and misunderstandings are inevitable at times in any relationship, but leaving these unresolved can lead to resentment and negativity that if left unaddressed can become toxic between couples.
In the most healthy relationships talking openly and listening to one another will take place naturally and on a regular basis just because it feels good to do so. It will also happen because one or both partners senses or knows that something difficult or significant has happened - either to their partner separately or between them in their relating which has left tension, distress or upset that needs addressing.
However in less healthy relationships talking openly, sharing and really listening to one another has been lost - sometimes completely. Undoubtedly there will be a good reason for this that may need exploration and understanding before a couple can move forwards towards reinstating good communication and mutual sharing. This may well be something that you need help with.
Consider that truly listening is an art that some people have a natural ability for while others need to learn! Taking time out to listen and share helps develop closeness and empathy for one another. Remain aware of the balance of your talking/listening together e.g. Does one of you tend to dominate the conversation while the other does more of the listening? Can you stay aware of this and try to make sure you each have roughly the same amount of time to talk and be listened to and then swap over?
If it doesn't come easily or naturally to do this then you may need to structure in specific times and learn ways to talk and listen to one other on a regular basis. See article: Basic Structure For Listening.
Understand that the past does affect the present
Your personal family histories and significant life experiences are likely, at times, to have an impact on each of your experiences of each other and on your behaviour within your relationship.
The more you can understand and empathise with each other about any significant current and previous life experiences that have had a difficult impact on you, the greater the likelihood of you both increasing a feeling of closeness to one another.
This isn't always an easy thing to achieve and it may be necessary to help begin this process of understanding by seeking therapeutic help.
Ideally, your partner can become someone who supports you with difficult feelings and thereby helps with the emotional healing that each of you may need. This will help you grow and develop greater maturity which can be one of the most enriching and satisfying experiences of being in a good relationship.
Remember too that your partner is unlikely to be everything you want and can't totally make up for your past emotional wounds and deeper areas of unresolved unhappiness. This may be something you need to seek your own therapeutic help with.
Pay attention to balancing the "we and I"
Much as it's important to be and do things together as a couple it's also important that each of you be and do things separately. Try to remain aware of the importance of keeping this balance in your life. Difficulties often arise when this balance between yourself as an individual and you as a member of a couple gets lost. Keeping up your own friendships and interests allows each of you to bring outside experiences into the relationship, so enriching it. It will also help you maintain a sense of yourself as a separate person and in so doing help you take an appropriate level of responsibility for yourself in life.
Conflict - have 'good' rows!
Learn to deal with conflict between you "well enough". Remember it won't ever be perfect. In general, it's healthier for each of you to be able to speak your mind, be heard and share your views openly and honestly, even if at times this includes anger, shouting or raised voices. This is far better than only one member of the partnership expressing themselves and the other feeling unable to, or both of you suppressing your difficult, negative feelings and avoiding conflict altogether.
Good conflict is open, equal sharing of disagreement, with both partners feeling able to speak their mind and be heard.
Bad conflict disallows this and can go on for too long, hours, days, weeks even months creating a bad atmosphere, perhaps with one partner sulking or retaliation between you and everyone (including your children) suffering.
(Any conflict that is too extreme, involves any level of physical intimidation or actual violence or leaves one partner feeling fearful or trapped should be taken seriously and help should be sought.)
When in conflict, if possible:
- Pay attention to listening to each other - really hear the important emotional point behind your partners view, even if you vehemently disagree with it - try to understand what your partner is trying to communicate to you on a deeper level.
- If it seems impossible between you - stop and take time out. This can allow you both time to calm down, reflect and hopefully gain perspective and be more likely to reach compromise.
- Don't argue or try to resolve anything too big or complex all at once or late in the day, agree to leave it for now and arrange a more appropriate time to discuss it further with a fixed time limit that you stick to.
Remember that a lot of conflicts are not fully resolved between couples but a compromise of sorts is reached.
Cultivate an ability to let things go! Choose your battles, concentrate on what really matters between you/re-evaluate your goals.
Pay attention to your affection/intimacy/sexual relationship
If possible work towards being as open as you can about your sexual/intimate relationship. Share your likes and dislikes, especially around affection and touch. What is it that you most enjoy about being touched, where and how? What is it that leaves you with a warm sense of closeness to one another? As well as sharing what it is that gives you the most sexual pleasure?
If necessary seek help with a sex therapist but remember you may have different sexual needs and appetite and this doesn't necessarily mean your physical intimacy and affection can't still be fruitful and bring you both pleasure. Some couples agree happily enough that the lack of a full sexual relationship between them is not a deal-breaker and can still have a satisfying life together. What is important is that ideally, (but not necessarily), couples explore this thoroughly and as openly as they can and reach a mutual understanding that works well enough for both of them.
Try to think of your relationship(s) as part of your whole personal life journey.
We are often drawn to others for deeper unconscious reasons than we are at first aware of and our relationship struggles can offer us insight and help with emotional learning that we may not realise we need to do!
Aspects of our partners that attract us can often replicate aspects of our earlier lives especially re-triggering our relationships with our parents or early carers that we perhaps need to revisit and learn about. Being open to exploring and understanding this can be very helpful and a good way to reflect on our relationships from a different angle.
Having a clear perspective on a relationship when you're in it can be very hard. If the struggle and unhappiness cause too much suffering and has destructive elements, or any threat or actual physical violence you should not hesitate to seek help and if necessary get out.
There is never an excuse for violence of any kind and this would never be part of a "good enough" relationship. This is equally true of emotional violence.
Sometimes it's worth considering whether the expectations of our relationships and our partners are just too high. But we can equally consider whether sometimes our expectations of our partners and our relationships are too low!