Every relationship needs a solid foundation if it’s to survive all life can throw at it. This article looks at the seven essentials that spell success.
1. Love yourself
Unless you love yourself, it’s hard for you to believe that anyone else will.
Self-esteem is important for a healthy relationship. When you truly like yourself, in spite of any failings and weaknesses you may have, you’ll feel confident. And when you feel confident and secure within yourself, you can enjoy being with your partner for the joy they bring to your life, not because you feel you need them to survive.
If you’ve had bad experiences in the past, it’s worth working through these issues with a trusted friend or counsellor. It can be tempting to lean on your partner and rely on them for reassurance, but the stronger you are as an individual, the stronger and more equal your relationship will be
2. Like your partner
Healthy relationships happen between two people who really like each other. It may be more romantic to talk about love, but it’s important to remember that love is an emotion that comes and goes.
If you genuinely like each other, enjoy being together, agree with how each other thinks and behaves, and share the same dreams in life, then loving feelings will never be too far away.
It’s important to tell your partner you like them, too. Warm words of encouragement and support build trust and respect. Add the odd compliment as well and you’ll be helping to boost their self-esteem.
3. Make quality time
The importance of things can be measured by the amount of time we’re willing to give them. When a couple first gets together, they instinctively prioritise their relationship. But as time goes by and life gets busier with work and children, time together often slips down the list of priorities.
If you don’t spend regular quality time together, chances are you’ll drift apart. Making such time for each other may mean sacrificing other activities, but remember it’s an investment in your future happiness.
Good communication is essential for a healthy relationship. It’s the only way you can tell your partner who you are, what you want and why you behave the way you do. Talking is the way we let each other into our private worlds.
Communicating better is about learning to say openly and honestly exactly what you think and feel. It also means listening to your partner without judgement.
5. Argue well
It’s important to accept that arguments are a normal part of a relationship. We’re all unique and so we’re bound to have our differences.
Couples who argue well don’t have to worry about not always agreeing. A good argument is an opportunity to share your feelings and strengthen your bond by reaching a decision you’re both happy with. It can be an experience that leaves you both feeling more confident about your relationship and brings you closer together.
6. Touch every day
Touching is a vital human need. Studies have shown that without touching, many animals – including humans – will die in childhood. Being caressed also lowers blood pressure and releases natural opiates in the brain, as well as the chemical oxytocin, which is essential for human pair-bonding.
Touch has the power to comfort and support, to protect and encourage, to relax and, of course, to arouse. Every couple knows their sex life may have dry periods, but our need for physical affection never changes.
7. Accept change
People change over the years and it’s these changes that can keep a relationship alive. Life changes too – and not always in ways that we want.
Change can provide opportunities for growth and intimacy, but it can also be painful. It may mean adjusting to a new way of thinking or a new way of life. It may also mean letting go of things that have been familiar and safe.
In successful relationships, couples learn to adapt and change together. They accept that change is an inevitable part of human life and support each other, for better for worse.
Keeping all seven principles going isn’t easy, but the more you can manage on a regular basis, the stronger your relationships will be.
Why you fall in love
As well as physical attraction, many people are drawn to someone who shares the same interests. This article explores why we fall in love with some people and not with others.
In some relationships, arguments always seem one sided – with one partner making all the noise as the other quietly calms the storm. It’s possible they both have a problem expressing their feelings, but together they’re able to reassure each other that emotions are being managed. Different couples will experience it in different ways, but that inexplicable feeling of wholeness you have when you’re together is what Henry Dicks, a guru in relationship psychotherapy, called the ‘unconscious fit’.
All of us carry with us a psychological blueprint, holding details about our life experiences and the marks they’ve left. It contains information we often haven’t acknowledged about our fears and anxieties and our coping mechanisms and defences.
Each of us has an unconscious capacity to scan another person’s blueprint. The people we’re most attracted to are those who have a blueprint that complements our own. We’re looking for similarities of experience but, more significantly, we’re also looking for differences.
The purpose of this unconscious fit is to find someone who can complement our experiences. That might be someone who’s the same as us, but most commonly we’re looking for someone from whom we can learn; someone who has developed coping mechanisms that are different from our own.
The ideal partner will be someone who has struggled with similar life issues, but has developed another way of managing it. It seems that our other half is often our best chance of becoming psychologically whole.
Although no two relationships are ever the same, psychologists have noticed that there are some common types of unconscious fit. Do you recognise any of these?
Parent and child – this type of couple often has shared issues with dependency and trust. One partner copes with those issues by behaving in a childlike way. Their hidden belief is that if they remain insecure, dependent and needy their partner will look after them. Their partner takes on the role of parent and by doing so is able to deny their own needs for dependency as they’re acted out by the other.
Master and slave – this couple has a problem with authority and control. One partner may feel very insecure if they’re ever subordinate, so they’re bossy and take charge of every household circumstance. Their partner, who fears responsibility, dutifully toes the line while smugly comparing what they describe as their laid-back attitude to their partner’s control-freak attitude.
Distancer and pursuer – both partners are afraid of intimacy but have found their perfect match. The unspoken agreement is that one of them will keep chasing and nagging the other one for more intimacy while the other runs away. Occasionally the chase will swap round.
Idol and worshipper – when one partner insists on putting the other on a pedestal, this often indicates an issue with competition. To avoid any form of comparison, both partners unconsciously agree to play this game.
There are two other common types of fit based on finding a partner who has a similar problem and a similar way of coping.
Babes in the wood – you may have seen this couple around. They look alike and often wear matching sweaters. They share the same interests and, more importantly, they dislike the same things. They keep anything bad out of their perfect relationship by joining forces against the big, bad world outside.
Cat and dog – on the surface these partners look as though they should never have even met. They argue incessantly over anything. They both avoid intimacy by living in a war zone.
You may see elements of your relationship in all of these types. As we progress through our relationships, it’s not uncommon to slip into a certain pattern of behaviour. For example, in a time of illness and vulnerability you may act out the parent and child model, while many couples become like babes in the wood following the birth of a child.
Good or bad chemistry?
All fits serve a psychological purpose designed to protect ourselves from discomfort. Most couples aren’t aware of their fit until something happens to change it. We all grow and mature, our needs change and our relationships need to adapt to those changes.
Problems may start when one or both partners feel they are no longer able to communicate their feelings and alter patterns of behaviour that are now outdated. If you think that may be happening in your relationship