Working as a marriage counsellor for over 15 years I have been given amazing insights into what makes for a healthy relationship (or not!). Education in this area is obviously a must but actively working with couples is an education like no other. I have spent countless hours learning about people and what makes for a healthy relationship.
There are some of the small habits or skills which all couples who have successful relationships seem to have in common. Ten of these are outlined below and all are easy to include in your relationship. If you don’t have them, then take the time to learn them. It is an investment in your relationship and your future. These are just some of the things we may look at in relationship counselling sessions.
- Look for something positive in each other every day and tell your partner. At the start of the relationship, couples naturally do this but as time goes on and you become familiar and comfortable, you start to focus on the negative things.
There are probably a whole lot of things your partner does each day that are positive, but you will often only point out the negatives to them. This doesn’t make anybody feel good and makes you really aware of what is wrong with the relationship, not what is right. I’m not suggesting you ignore problems, just don’t make your relationship a problem focused one. The more you look for the good, the better you both feel about each other.
- Don’t try and fix each other. For men, when women start telling their partner about problems in their day, men tend to try and solve these problems when what they are really after is someone to vent to. They want to be heard, acknowledged and this alone often makes them feel better. If they want your advice, they will ask for it, otherwise, just try and listen to them, show interest and be empathetic if needed.
Women often like to ‘fix’ their partners. Men are happy with who they are and want their partner to be happy with them too. For women, trying to guide their partner and fix them in various ways is a loving gesture to show they care, but what it says to men is that they are not good enough as they are. If you want him to feel loved, let him be him, quirks and all. As for women, if he wants your help he will ask for it.
- Decide what you can accept and what needs to change in the relationship for you to be happy. I like to divide issues in a relationship into 3 categories.
The ‘Dealbreakers’ – these are the things that you agree will in all probability, end your relationship. Often for people it is things like abuse or continuous affairs but it can be anything that you feel you won’t be able to accept in a partner. Make sure you discuss these together so you both have respect for each other’s needs.
The ‘Needs Adjustment’ – these are issues that are not going to end the relationship, but need to change in order for you to be happy and live with it. These often include things like how to manage money, resolve conflict and meet each other’s individual needs. It often includes small things that seem insignificant to one partner but can have a lot of meaning to the other. Spend some time talking these through and looking for solutions that will work for both of you.
The last category is the ‘Acceptable’ – these are things that perhaps irritate but are not worth trying to change. They are often small irritating habits of your partner that don’t really affect the relationship or how you feel about yourself in any way. For these items, it is best to accept that if it isn’t worth trying to change, then it isn’t worth mentioning. If you’ve decided to accept it, then put it aside and don’t raise it.
- Place importance on meeting your partner’s needs. Usually couples place differing levels of importance on things in the relationship. There is a belief that if it isn’t important to me, then no matter how much you bring it up, I don’t believe it is important and therefore won’t bother with it.
It is really important to listen to your partner carefully and take on board what it means to them rather than dismissing it because it means little to you. If it is important to them and you can meet that need, then do it, even if you feel it is not that big a deal.
Often it is these small things that we dismiss with each other than can break a relationship. Issues such as not returning calls in a reasonable time or allowing your partner ‘down time’ after work are things that come up often in couples counselling. These seem minor but can create a lot of resentment over time of not addressed.
Sometimes that tea spoon on the kitchen bench has a lot of meaning to one person!
- Show your partner they are important to you by greeting them at the end of every day with a hug as the first thing you do when you come together. This may sound silly, but many people raise this as an issue, that they don’t feel like a priority when their partner doesn’t come to them to acknowledge them as soon as they get home. Make sure you are both doing this, not placing the expectation on one person to always seek out the other. It is often the small gestures like this that help hold a relationship together.
- Ask for what you need in a positive way. Often when couples want something from their partner, they will phrase it as a negative. Things like, “You never call me to tell me you are going to be late”. Fair enough, you would like a phone call to state this, but making it a negative accusation makes your partner feel they need to defend themselves rather than try and meet your need.
Saying something like, “I’d really appreciate it if you would call me to let me know if you are going to be late. I know sometimes you can’t help being late but I would really like you to let me know. Would you do that”? This statement is much more likely to get your partner to want to call you and meet that need. Sometimes it may need a gentle reminder, but ask, don’t accuse.
- Allow your partner to have their interests. In a healthy relationship, both partners will have their own interests or hobbies and it is important to keep doing these things for yourself while in a relationship. Often couples will feel that their partner is neglecting them if they choose to do an activity on their own and this causes conflict. As long as there is some balance, it is important to support your partner in following their own interests and allow them that time. That way you both come back to each other refreshed and with more interest to communicate. Be your partner’s cheerleader. They will appreciate you for it.
- Keep the intimacy alive. After the honeymoon period, couples often find that their sexual drives are not aligned and this is a big source of conflict for many people. Be aware that this is a really important part of your relationship and you need to work together to find a balance that works for both of you.
Be respectful of your needs and that of your partner and keep the communication open about this. Be careful not to be dismissive about this if it doesn’t feel important to you. Chances are it could eventually be a dealbreaker to your partner if it is not fixed. If it is raised as an issue, pay attention to it.
- Have some common interests. Just as it is important to have individual interests, it is equally important to have some interests that you like to pursue together. This helps to create together time that is not just hanging around the house doing chores, but enjoyable.
If you don’t currently have an activity together, find one. Try different things until you find something that works. Creating happy memories together as a couple can help to get you through any tough times that you come across.
- Be aware that family time and couple time are two different things. When kids come along, there is often a move towards doing everything that is family focused. This is great for creating a strong family unit, but it takes away from the relationship between partners.
Many couples will recount things they do together as their activities, when in fact the whole family is involved so it is not couple time but family time. Your relationship still needs attention away from the children so make sure you find the time to work this in.
Many couples come to relationship counselling thinking that they have huge obstacles to overcome in order to make their relationship a fulfilling one. While this is sometimes true, often it is a combination of these small things that make for a lasting and fulfilling relationship. Try and makes some positive changes starting today and watch for positive results.
Relationships are work. But, they can be FUN work.
Here if you need.