By Costa Provis, LCPC, CPC
Over the 10 plus years that I have worked as as a therapist that helps couples in Chicago, I’ve assisted many people from different lifestyles and backgrounds, I have certainly come to identify some very strong themes that many healthy relationships have in common.
There are plenty of themes that unhealthy couples also have in common, but let’s focus here on some of the more positive attributes that I have observed and maybe you will take away some ideas for your relationship too.
The lessons are many, but here are the top 5 things I have learned that healthy relationships have in common:
- Fundamentally trust is about acting in a trustworthy fashion. Couples with healthy trust are typically mindful of not acting in a way that may be viewed as disrespectful by their partner. They find that by acting in a trustworthy way, and assuming their partner is doing the same, there is typically very little mistrust in a relationship. When mistrust is “triggered” they are able to effectively talk about it (see #4 below) to find resolution. By contrast, when trust is not present in a relationship, life in general gets pretty stressful and riddled with jealousy. There is typically a lot of suspicion and a very common reaction to these stressful feelings is to worry and feel a lack of control. The reaction to this is often to want to feel more in control and therefore one may engage in monitoring behavior. The idea here is that I “trust” you, but only as long as I know exactly what you’re doing, who you’re talking to, etc. The assumption is usually that something shady is going on and people search for some kind of “proof”. If you find yourself in this type of dynamic in your relationship you may want to identify alternative coping strategies to cope with the stress and jealousy associated with mistrust; trust me when I tell you that monitoring never works long term.
- Support their partner in their interests. Healthy couples tend to support eachother in the things they enjoy, even when those things take time away from one another. They may not always love it, but they tend to stay supportive, even encouraging. They are willing to be flexible and sacrifice in order for their partner to be more fulfilled as an individual. If you believe (as I do) that fulfilled individuals make for better partners, then hopefully this idea doesn’t sound too far off. Unfortunately, this support isn’t always the case and sometimes people can get pretty passive aggressive and crap on eachother’s interests, viewing them as distractions. Quite often people take these interests or hobbies personally, and feel threatened by them. I feel that we all need things that we value and enjoy outside the relationship to stay well and balanced. These things don’t have to be a threat, it is just very important to also have things within the relationship we also enjoy, to create a healthy balance.
- Treat eachother with kindness and compassion. Healthy couples are able and willing to give eachother the benefit of the doubt, and view eachother as individuals, not just as part of the couple/unit. This isn’t meant to “de-value” the unit, but rather to view it as a partnership between two individuals. It’s amazing how quickly we can lose our individuality in a relationship, then quite often resent the other person for that. Instead, healthy couples have a good balance rooted in treating eachother with the kindness and compassion we would all like to be treated with. This compassion also comes in very handy when it comes to conflict resolution!
- Effective communication and conflict resolution. Speaking of treating eachother with kindness and compassion, some of the best couples I have met have a really good handle on conflict resolution. Conflict will happen. Everyone will all be triggered at times. The line in the sand is all about how you choose to react to the trigger. Couples who “fight well” tend to pass the test of time because they experience resolution together. They usually don’t throw the kitchen sink at eachother, call eachother names, or lose respect for one another in the midst of an argument. They don’t get thrown off course at the mere presence of conflict, but rather view conflict as a temporary disconnection and refocus on the resolution. They “fight” to better understand the situation and communicate to create solutions – not to win the fight. If you can embrace the idea that triggers and conflicts will arise, and focus on how you communicate and treat your partner during these times, I know you can also fight better!
- The fifth and possibly most important thing that healthy happy couples tend to have is a strong connection/friendship. They seem to enjoy hanging out together, having fun doing simple things, and accept eachother’s invitations to connect on a fairly regular basis. Reflect on your relationship in terms of your friendship and connection to your partner. Is there room for improvement? Don’t forget that once upon a time you went on a first date with this person, then a second and third… the point is that you probably put in a lot more effort to have fun together at some point. These good times spent together are a huge part of what you built the foundation of your relationship upon; you made fun memories together and truly enjoyed eachother’s company. It is extremely important that you continue to have fun together – more now than ever if you consider how much more routine and responsible life has become. Think about it, as you add routine & responsibility and decrease fun & play it’s easy to suck all the fun out of any relationship.
In conclusion, I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of amazing couples over my career so far, and have also learned a lot along the way. Healthy, happy, well-adjusted couples are made up of two healthy, happy, well-adjusted individuals.
Therefore it is extremely important that we take the lessons here and focus on these 5 key attributes of good relationships: trust eachother, support one another, treat eachother with kindness & compassion, use effective conflict resolution skills, and maintain a friendship rooted in having fun together. Practice these things and you too can enjoy a wonderful relationship too