Yes, we know each couple has their differences (no two humans are 100 percent alike, after all) but relationship expert Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia NSW, says there are 10 fundamental truths of every healthy relationship.
This article was originally written by Elisabeth Shaw for Body + Soul.
There is no doubt that when any of us take time to reflect on our relationship we will find “healthy and happy” aspects accompanied by difficult and even distressing aspects we have in the “too hard” basket.
Every couple is different and what works in one relationship may not work in another. Some couples swear by separate bedrooms (with sleepovers), while others would find such an arrangement intolerable.
Our society is full of images of “happy and successful” couples, but what constitutes success? The actor Paul Hogan, responding to a question about the “failure” of his marriage to Linda Kozlowski, commented “I would say that a 23-year marriage was a success, not a failure”.
While there is no guaranteed formula, and good relationships always involve a little bit of magic, there are many tried and true ways to strengthen a relationship. You probably know a lot of them already, but it never hurts to make a conscious effort to remind ourselves.
1. Kindness, care and thoughtfulness
Many little kindnesses and thoughtful gestures show our partner that we care.
If we have no preference, why not hang up wet clothes or stack the dishwasher in a certain way if it makes our partner happy?
These small, thoughtful gestures strengthen a relationship and bypass a process where little things can become a battlefield.
Of course, there needs to be a balanced flow of giving and giving-in where compromise doesn’t involve losing oneself.
2. Mutual respect and manners
“Please” and “thank you” are a given. Expressions of appreciation, even for little things, demonstrate you don’t take your partner for granted.
Do you treat your partner with respect and think the best of them at all times, even when you disagree? Especially so when in the company of family and friends?
3. Acceptance of your partner for who they are
This doesn’t mean you can’t ask your partner to consider changing some behaviours, but if you want to change their core nature, good luck!
Often the qualities we valued in a person when we first met them can be those we later want to change. It works better if we can respect differences rather than try to change each other.
4. Judgement, criticism, blaming never helps
Beware the self-righteousness that comes with judgement, criticism and blaming.
For instance, while some people are inherently selfish or lazy, it is also true that we sometimes call people “selfish” and “lazy” when they are simply not doing what we want them to do.
Relationships require a commitment to keep communication open and flowing. Do you feel safe enough to express a different opinion? Can you hear each other, reduce reactive and defensive responses, and develop strategies to resolve differences?
When talking isn’t easy, write a text or a letter, and then follow up in person. Allow each other to take time and space but keep the lines of communication open.
6. Arguments, hurt, repair and forgiveness
To work through the challenges of relationships involves a willingness to argue (with mutual respect) and a willingness to resolve differences.
It takes courage and decency to make a genuine apology and admit when we are wrong. The importance of dealing with hurt feelings is often underestimated in the repair needed after arguments.
“I can see I really hurt your feelings” goes a long way in the process of repair. In turn, repair also involves a willingness to forgive and let go of hurt feelings.
7. Companionship, support and good times
Couples who view their partner as a “best friend” are indeed lucky, but is it just luck?
Do you make spending time with each other a priority? Do you make an effort to have conversations and tell each other about your day?
Do you share laughter, goals and plan good times? Are you open to new things? When life doesn’t flow smoothly do you give your partner attention and support? Can you give your partner freedom to do their own thing without resentment? Are you aware when your partner feels lonely?
8. Sharing domestics and parenting
It is no surprise that much research on this topic reveals that relationships, where responsibilities are shared more evenly, are often happier and more harmonious.
Goodwill is created when both partners contribute and share proactively. This demonstrates “we are in this together”.
9. Being a cheerleader for each other
Do you recognise your partner’s achievements? Do you value, encourage and support your partner’s passions, interests and goals? You don’t have to love everything your partner does, but you can respect what is important to them.
10. Responsibility for health, stress and self-care
Self-care is an important priority. If you are unhealthy and stressed how can you be a part of a healthy and happy relationship? Sometimes irritation with our partner can be traced back to our own self-neglect, rather than their deficiencies.
While a healthy, rewarding relationship can come easily it may also require conscious investment. Being surrounded by people who support our couple relationship, individually and collectively, will be critical to our success.
Elisabeth Shaw is CEO of Relationships Australia NSW and a clinical and counselling psychologist specialising in couple and family work.
For support RANSW is here to help, on 1300 364 277, or visit our website, www.relationshipsnsw.org.au