A healthy relationship includes two people who simultaneously seek genuine safety and security through intimacy with their partner. Intimacy (not sex) is a process and not a thing, a verb versus a noun. It is what you DO.
It looks like this: Both people feel safe and comfortable enough to share their feelings. They work to empathize with the feelings of the other person and really try to understand the other person’s emotional reality. Because they trust their partner will try to understand them, they feel safe enough to share their truth. That means you have to work on trying to understand what’s going on with your partner.
In a healthy, intimate relationship, neither person succumbs to knee jerk reactions, uncontrollable emotions, temper tantrums, and other emotional “quick fixes” that bring immediate, pseudo-relief in a tense situation. That means you don’t flare up, say something nasty, throw things, walk out of the room, or say something snarky. Instead, you listen. If you have to say something, you ask a question with an earnest curiosity.
They each work to manage their own internal triggers so that their reactions don’t tarnish the couple’s intimacy. This takes work inside your own head! I can’t emphasize this enough. A significant amount of the work to be done when creating a healthy relationship occurs inside your own mind. That’s where you start!
Working as a team, they make honest assessments of what works inside the relationship, what doesn’t, and are each willing to implement changes individually and together.
Both partners realize credit for the relationship’s success goes to the team, not to one person. After all, “it takes two to tango,” and by definition needs two people to function. Giving credit to one person for its success destabilizes the relationship. There is no, “I told you so.”
Each partner accepts their complete responsibility for their part in the relationship’s energy, both positive and negative energy. They work on positively energizing the partnership, learning more effective ways of regulating their own upsetting emotions and empathizing with their partner’s triggers. Again, a significant amount of the work you need to do happens inside your own head.
Finally, they position themselves to learn about and maximize their spiritual potential both as individuals and as a team.
Wow. I’ll bet you’ve never seen such a relationship, right? They take work! And that work is an ongoing process inside each partner’s own mind.
Today, with our knowledge about mental health, neuroscience, and psychology, we are in the best position we’ve ever been to achieve this type of healthy relationship. So, how do you get there?
Start where you are (Which, by the way, is the title of a fabulous book by Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron).
Explore and eventually agree upon a strategy with your partner, and find out if he or she is willing to join you in improving your relationship. This might take some time, so don’t rush things. Maybe it takes hours, days, or months. At some point, see if you can arrive at an agreement on starting this project.
Once you’re there, start by discussing your individual beliefs about what a relationship entails. However, you must be honest with your partner about what you want and need. See if you’re on the same page. If you are, fantastic! If not, then you both can go about figuring out how to compromise and find a mutually agreeable model for your relationship. Again, take your time. This isn’t something to be hammered out in one night. This is a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, it is an ongoing process as you and your partner age and go through life’s stages.
Review my blog about why you fight, and the characteristics listed above of a healthy relationship.
Here are the rules: respect, curiosity, teamwork, talk, explore, negotiate, listen, apologize, understand, use a mirror not a magnifying glass, cooperate, share, be honest, and empathize.
Here are the things to stop: criticism, stonewalling, silent treatment, refusing to talk about it, temper tantrums, interruptions, judgement, assumptions, name-calling, lying, withholding the truth, and manipulation.
This takes work, and the majority of that work involves controlling the Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse inside YOUR OWN HEAD: resentment, dishonesty, stonewalling, and anger.