Each and every day as a therapist, I talk to couples who are having issues. Issues serious enough that they have reached out for help. My job is to help them come to a decision about whether to move forward together or separately, which can be difficult. Sometimes, I have found, love and communication are not enough to stay together.
This article will help you understand what IS enough to stay together — what’s required to create and maintain happy and healthy relationships.
1. Get back on track with communication
No relationship, romantic or other, is going to proceed without conflict. What ends up getting the relationship back on track is good communication. Communication, therefore, is the single most important factor in the health of a relationship because it represents the relationship’s ability to self-correct. But what makes for good communication? Entire books could be written on this, but for now let’s keep it simple:
- Preemptive: Easier to be upfront because then problems can be spoken about instead of experienced.
- Consistent: No point in communicating some of the time, or only on certain issues; it only works if it’s always happening.
- Honest: Good communication is a trust-building act, bringing you and the other person closer (see below). Dishonesty has the opposite effect.
2. Start with trust
A relationship must have a foundation of trust to succeed. I could make a logical argument for why this must be the case, but instead, imagine what it would be like to have a relationship with someone you fundamentally mistrusted. Not enjoyable, am I right?
A lack of trust often initiates a vicious cycle. The one who is distrustful often causes the other partner to become secretive, even about things he or she does not need to hide, just to secure some privacy and control. This gives the suspicious person more to suspect.
Overall, a lack of trust or a breach of trust is one of the most difficult situations to overcome in a relationship.
3. Align on core values
Core values can be defined simply as those you cannot tolerate a partner NOT to share. Most relationships can have healthy disagreements about a wide variety of subjects, but each person has their “non-negotiable” beliefs. For some, this might be politics; for others, it might be whether to have children; between friends, it might be a matter of ethics.
Whatever your non-negotiables, it is important that your partner share them; otherwise you will constantly feel as if you are compromising on a deeply personal level.
However, keep in mind that not all beliefs are set in stone. If both people are willing to hear each other out, they might be surprised at the compromises they discover.
4. Use intimacy as a gauge
Although intimacy often stands in for sex in the psychological community, it can mean much more than that. I would define intimacy as an ability to communicate in a uniquely interpersonal level with another person, which can certainly happen between friends and family members as well as romantic partners. One subset of intimacy is sex, though, and in a romantic relationship this is one of the major readings of its health and happiness.
Sex in a relationship is similar to flossing, in that people who floss tend to live longer. It is not that flossing increases your life expectancy directly, but rather that those who tend to floss also tend to care for themselves in other ways, all of which lead to a longer life. Same thing with sex: a healthy sex life does not equal a healthy relationship, but it is an indication of many other positive things going on in addition to the benefit it brings by itself.