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Relationships: It Takes Two

Jules Ker has worked as a behavioral health therapist for 12 years. She treats children, adults, and couples.

This article will provide guidance on the work of maintaining a healthy relationship.

This article will provide guidance on the work of maintaining a healthy relationship.

What Is a Relationship?

According to Merriam-Webster, there are several definitions of the word relationship. One definition is that a relationship is a "romantic or passionate attachment". A second definition describes a relationship as "a specific instance or type of kinship".

This article is going to focus on all types of relationships: romantic ones involving a spouse/significant other, friendships, and those involving family members.

"Relationships take work and most of it is not that hard, especially once you start doing it."

What Do You Mean I Have to Work at It?

As mentioned in a PsychCentral article titled "8 Myths That Could Kill Your Relationship", many people falsely believe that once they become involved in some type of relationship, particularly a friendship or romantic relationship (family relationships are less of a choice), they no longer need to put any work into the relationship. It's as if some how the relationship is magically going to sustain itself and everything is going to be just as good as it was when the relationship first started.

The truth is relationships take work and most of it is not that hard, especially once you start doing it. You wouldn't just buy a new car and then never get the oil changed or have it serviced in any way and expect it to keep running great, would you? The same goes for relationships. You have to put effort in to get something out.

Not only do relationships take work but they need effort from all parties involved in order to keep things running. Here are a few of the possible outcomes that could occur when only one person is doing all of the work (or most of it) in an attempt to improve a relationship.

  1. The relationship goes nowhere, as in little if nothing gets better. It can feel like being stuck on an endless hamster wheel with no way to get off. The relationship may continue but everyone will likely become more and more dissatisfied with the relationship as time goes on. This could lead to a situation where two people co-exist in the same space but otherwise lead separate lives.
  2. The person doing the work makes improvements and their partner/friend/family member gets inadvertently left behind. In some cases, the partner/friend/family member may see that they are being left behind and may decide to start making some changes as well and the relationship might continue. In other cases, the person being left behind might not care that they are being left behind or might not have the resources/skills to catch up. This may lead to the end of the relationship.

5 Basic Principles for a Healthy Relationship

If you are reading this article, then you are probably looking for some ways to know if your relationship is ok and what you can do to fix it. The following will provide some basic guidelines for ways to keep your relationship in good shape.

1. Speak kindly to each other.

Yes, this means that even when you are upset with each other you need to try and refrain from speaking harshly to each other. That old saying "If you have nothing nice to say, then don't say anything at all" applies here. However, it is OK to express your feelings to each other if you can do so in a respectful manner.

Here is an example: Instead of saying: "You jerk. I can't believe you came home late again. Now dinner is ruined". You could try saying: "I was really hurt when you didn't call to tell me you would be home late from work because I was really looking forward to sharing the special dinner I cooked for you".

2. Notice the positives.

Make a point of verbally acknowledging these things. It can be as simple as telling your loved one "The garage looks really clean" or "Dinner tastes good" or "We sure do have fun when we are playing games with each other".

In addition, not only should you notice the good things that are happening in the relationship but take time to notice the good qualities your partner/friend/family member possesses. This might require that you make a written list of qualities your significant other has that you admire.

3. Give each other space.

This applies during times when you are frustrated with each other but also when the relationship is doing OK. During an argument or moments when one person is angry, giving each other space allows each person time to calm down and thus be able to think more clearly. The rest of the time, space allows you to not get sick of each other. That doesn't mean you should never do anything with each other (see points 4 and 5) you just need to know when a break is necessary.

4. Spend time together.

Yes, this seems to contradict what is being said in number three. However, it's really hard to be in a relationship with someone if you rarely spend any time with them.

Spending time together can be as simple as going for a walk after dinner or having coffee together in the morning. It can also include more lavish things such as a fancy dinner or a weekend getaway. Spending time together as a couple or with friends means the kids are not invited so higher a babysitter or find a family member to watch the kids during these moments. Yes, you can spend time with your children and your spouse/significant other all together but that's considered family time not couples time.

The same goes for spending time with friends. If you are truly spending time with friends, then it means friends only and no children unless you are arranging a play date and it's discussed ahead of time as being just that.

5. Have your own interests and hobbies.

While it's true that you should have some shared interests with your loved one, you also need your own hobbies and interests. This makes it easier for you to give each other the space talked about in number three. If you or partner/friend/family member don't have separate hobbies, then it's time to develop some.

Start by making a list of activities you could do by yourself that seem interesting. It can be things like taking pictures, knitting, painting, putting together puzzles, etc. Then start doing those activities on a regular basis.

If you feel you need some more assistance with managing your relationship, you can check out some of the books listed under the For Further Reading section. In addition, as always, you can also consult a licensed professional in your area for further assistance as well.


For Further Reading

  • What Makes Love Last? by John Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver, published in 2012: This book shows readers how to identify signs, behaviors, and attitudes that indicate sexual and other forms of betrayal, and provides strategies for repairing what may seem lost or broken (description taken from the product page on John Gottman's website.
  • The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver, originally published in 2000, updated in 2015: This book lists signs that your relationship may be in trouble. It also provides a series of activities that can be completed to help couples get their relationship back on track.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.