If you have attended couple therapy in the past, you may have heard your therapist talk about “healthy relationships.” What makes for a healthy relationship and how do you know if yours is healthy? There are several common factors present in thriving partner relationships.
1. Freedom to Speak Your Mind – A hallmark of a healthy relationship is feeling comfortable to speak to your partner about your thoughts and emotions without fear of retribution and without fear of it turning into a major conflict. Clear, respectful and gentle communication is vital to the health of your relationship. A strong partner connection that feels emotionally safe will encourage you to share your thoughts and feelings freely and enable you to reciprocate creating a safe space for your partner to share.
2. Feeling “Heard” – Another sign of a good relationship is when you feel “heard” by your partner, literally feeling that your partner can hear you. This happens in relationships in which partners listen well to one another and try to understand one another. It creates a space where your partner feels understood and that his or her feelings are validated and valued. Healthy couples work on their listening skills and use some nonverbal cues like eye contact to help their partners feel heard.
3. Mutual Trust and Respect – Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Healthy relationships allow for respect for differences between partners and frame these differences as non-threatening to the relationship. An indicator of a healthy relationship is that you trust that your partner tells you the truth and has your best interests at heart, and that trust and respect are reciprocal. You feel secure in the knowledge that your partner respects you and has your back and vice versa.
Your relationship does not have to be perfect to be a healthy relationship. In fact, many imperfect relationships can model very healthy and constructive ways of expressing negative feelings and resolving conflict, which every relationship will endure at some point. Putting your own personal effort into creating an emotionally safe space for your partner, being a good listener, and being trustworthy and respectful will go a long way towards building a healthier relationship with your partner.
One of the most overlooked processes that is critical for the well-being of a relationship is expressing gratitude. What is gratitude? Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful and a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. I have worked with many couples over the years, and I have discovered that while saying “thank you” to your partner is necessary, gratitude comes with a bit more energy, effort, and action. Couples can go beyond saying thank you. Gratitude allows for expressing a genuine and heartfelt appreciation. Research shows that couples that engage in expressing gratitude often are happier and more hopeful about the relationship, and that expressing gratitude serves as a stronger predictor of relationship satisfaction as compared to forgiveness, patience, and self-control. Gratitude in a relationship manifests love, devotion, and commitment in ways that encourage longevity. These are three critical ways to express and maintain gratitude in your relationship:
Speak to Your Partner’s Impact: It is important that when you say “thank you” to your partner, take it the extra step and walk them through how their efforts and gestures impacted you (no matter how big or small). For example, saying something like, “Thank you so much for taking the garbage out for me. I appreciate it because it allowed me to grab some coffee before my next Zoom meeting.” Why say all of this? It works because we, as humans, want to hear the impact we have on this world and in the lives of our loved ones. To go beyond “thank you” and share the impact of your partner also boosts their self-esteem and reinforces this positive behavior again. NOTE: I use this strategy in my own marriage, and I have seen it play a huge role in how my wife and I stay connected daily.
Don’t Forget about Touch: Michaelangelo once said “to touch can be to give life.” Expressing gratitude does not only need to take the form of verbal gratitude. One of the most prominent ways to stay connected is through touch. Expressing gratitude via touch such as hugs, kisses, petting, etc., becomes the vehicle of emotional expression and displaying gratitude. Touch is fundamental in communicating with your partner to promote bonding and health for you both. So, while words matter and stick with us, let’s not forget that physical forms of gratitude strengthens powerful connections between our brains and our bodies, and lets us know we are safe, secure and appreciated.
Make it Mutual:Reciprocity is the key in any romantic relationship and expressing gratitude must go both ways. Both partners need to sit down and talk about ways of expressing gratitude and establish a commitment to reciprocity. A critical part of this conversation would be to figure out what to do when a partner feels that there is an inequity around expressing gratitude. Another way to increase expression of gratitude as a mutual experience for both partners is to create gratitude rituals. These rituals can serve as explicit spaces for both partners to share in the experience together and be intentional about expressing gratitude so that it does not fall to one person.
Grief and loss can be a difficult subject for many people to talk about. After a loss many people feel stuck and unsure of what to do next. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Yet, hopefully utilizing some of these tips will help you through your journey of grief and loss:
Accept Your Feelings. You will experience a variety of difficult and unexpected feelings throughout this process. It is important to remember that no feeling is right or wrong. There is nothing that you “should” be feeling. Instead embrace your feelings as they arise. Embracing the emotions that accompany the loss will help you move towards healing.
Express Your Grief. It is important that you find healthy ways to let out your emotions. Try crying, journaling, music, art, exercise, or whatever you find helpful to let out your grief. Also, remember to allow space for rest given that expressing emotions can be mentally and physically exhausting.
Lean Into Your Supports. It can be easy to isolate yourself while grieving. Instead, seek and accept the support of others. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and your religious community (if you have one) are all great options. If you need professional support or just outside support, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. There are also many grief support groups that are available to you in your area.
Laugh. Engage in activities that will bring you joy. Sometimes people who are grieving mistakenly believe that having fun or laughing will dishonor the memory of those they have lost. However, this is far from the truth. In fact, engaging in fun hobbies and interests can help you connect with others which can help you throughout the grieving process.All in all, grieving is an unique process that is unpredictable. One day you may feel like your world is falling apart. Another day you may feel a sense of peace. It is all your journey. Just remember to be gentle with yourself wherever you are in the process and go at your own pace.
Q: On behalf of the Relationship Counseling Center of Maryland (RCC), thank you for being on staff as an office administrator! What has been the most exciting part in working with RCC and its clients?
A: Working for RCC has been such a great experience. It’s hard for me to narrow down what my favorite part of it is. But if I had to, I would say that it comes down to creating a good “match” for an incoming client and a therapist. I’m always happy to see a long standing therapeutic relationship begin to form between one of our therapists and a client that I was responsible for scheduling.
Q: Have you yourself been to therapy?
A: Yes! I actually began my personal therapeutic journey recently. I believe that therapy is a rewarding experience for any human, regardless of our personal struggles and joys. I think it is a great way to begin connecting with and understanding yourself. I find that it also helps individuals be a better friend and family member to their loved ones, since they are able to relieve some of the burdens of life by having a professional to whom they can air their grievances.
Q: What do you like most about working with people?
A: I feel honored to be a part of helping people who are beginning their therapeutic journey. I think that deciding to begin therapy is such a personal and vulnerable decision to make. And the fact that RCC’s clients and potential clients trust me to assist them in starting or restarting that process means the world to me.
Q: Outside of being an office administrator what are some of your hobbies?
A: Anything related to music. I enjoy singing, making playlists, going to concerts, and listening to songs in my free time. I think that music is very healing and comforting for me.
Q: What do you do for self-care?
A: Every Saturday I like to have a “pamper” day. This usually means getting a pedicure, doing a face mask, yoga, or getting a massage. I think taking time for yourself to do things that make you feel good is important. It seems intuitive, but it’s easy to forget to make time for yourself.
Q: In your experience, what is the most important thing that can strengthen a relationship?
A: For any relationship, romantic or platonic, I believe the best thing you can do for a person you care about is truly listen to them. Listen for their wants, how they would like to be treated by you, and the things they enjoy/want to do. Once you know more of what makes them happy, it becomes easier to create joyful experiences between the two of you, and to do things that make them feel special and cared for. I find that giving someone kindness is the surest way to get it back.