Every relationship ebbs and flows. Some days may feel amazing while others may leave you crying on the kitchen floor. The key to weathering these natural storms is to form good relationship habits from the start.
Here are six everyday habits to help build a strong and healthy relationship:
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1. Don’t avoid conflict
Conflict is often thought of as a sign of weakness when in fact it is something all couples deal with, no matter how picture-perfect their Instagram posts appear. According to Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, and Virginia-based licensed Talkspace therapist, “One of the most common misconceptions is that couples in healthy relationships never argue.” As Christine Tolman, LCPC, and Talkspace therapist adds, “Everyone has conflict, it is part of how we grow and change.”
Instead of trying to avoid conflict, it is better to learn how to handle disagreements in a loving and respectful manner. Tolman reiterates that conflict should not include name calling, blaming, or physical violence. Instead, focus on identifying where your own needs are not being met and openly communicate those with your partner so they know how to better support you. Whether you need space, help doing the dishes, or trust in your decision-making, it’s important to get to the root of the conflict so you can both move forward in a positive and productive way.
2. Be open to change
By trying to prevent someone from changing, you may inadvertently be pushing them away. Tolman views relationships as two parallel processes. “Each person should have the freedom to grow, change, evolve,” she said. “The hope is that you each evolve in a way that allows you both to end up in a complementary place in your relationship.” She finds that couples most often drift apart or have conflicts when they are changing in ways that are not complementary. It’s important to accept that change is inevitable and be open to the new adventures that await you, your partner, and your relationship.
3. Understand your attachment style
Attachment styles, according to Tolman, are formed early on and are influenced by our relationship to our parents. Often, your attachment style is an unconscious choice. As she explained, “We create the foundations for relationships when we are very young, and tend to carry these with us into adult relationships.”
If you are curious to learn about the four attachment styles, here is a quick overview provided by Catchings:
- Secure: Offers support when their partner feels distressed and receives it in a healthy way when they need it as well.
- Dismissive-Avoidant: Emotionally distances themselves from their partner.
- Anxious-Preoccupied: Seeks a sense of safety and security by clinging to their partner and creating a fantasy.
- Fearful-Avoidant: Afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others.
Ideally, relationships will embody a secure attachment style so that you can connect with each other without abandoning yourself.
4. Watch out for assumptions
It’s easy to jump to conclusions when you are feeling hurt. However, Catchings warns that not everything we hear has to be interpreted the way we think. In other words, assuming you know why your partner acts the way they do or what they mean when they say something can be one of the greatest pitfalls of your relationship. Instead, take a deep breath, practice some self-soothing, and when you feel centered, ask for whatever clarification you need to understand the situation more clearly.
5. Ask for help
While we all know that clear communication is the key to relationship success, few of us are taught how to be good communicators. Catchings believes the first step in clear communication is to learn how to listen for the purpose of understanding instead of responding right away or trying to win an argument. Next, she recommends communication strategies or tools. Third, she suggests seeking professional help, especially from in-person or online couples counseling. She cites Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) as a particularly helpful modality for communication.
6. Educate yourself
There is a wealth of resources out there that offers useful tips and research to help strengthen your relationship. Here are a few favorites from the therapist community:
- Book: When Sorry Isn’t Enough by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
- Book: Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan
- Book: I Hear You by Michael Sorensen
- Book: Eight Dates by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, Dr. Doug Abrams, and Dr. Rachel Carlton
- Book: Insecure in Love by Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps
- Ted Talk: The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Love by Katie Hood
- Podcast: Relationship Advice
The truth is, no two relationships are the same. It’s up to you to figure out what works for you and your partner. It takes courage and vulnerability to do the inner work needed to create a strong and healthy partnership. While there is no magic bullet, there is a lot to be said for simply showing up and being present in the relationship.