There’s nothing like falling in love, which often involves embracing fear and vulnerability for a connection that lasts. After the initial rush of excitement and elation, it’s common for honeymoon phases to fade and for less fairytale-like feelings to surface, which can make a relationship more complicated. Instead of a passionate collision of hearts, loving your partner becomes a choice that can at times be uncertain, difficult, and even scary. But, as with many challenges, embracing love, for better or worse, carries its own rewards. Loving, healthy relationships can encourage each partner’s self-growth, deepen their sense of meaning, and increase the amount of joy in their lives.
Thrive therapist, Brett Glanzmann, MFTI, specializes in couples therapy. He qualifies a healthy relationship as one that allows partners to be honest and vulnerable with each other. As a result, each partner can openly express their needs and meet their partner’s needs.
SIX ELEMENTS OF A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP
Let’s explore some elements that form the foundations of and foster loving, healthy relationships.
Though your partner should add joy to your life, they should not be the only source of your happiness and self-esteem. If you put this kind of pressure on them, the relationship may falter. It’s important to remember that you are in control of your own happiness, and you should feel empowered by that knowledge. So, invest in your interests and hobbies, dedicate time to self-care, foster relationships with your friends and family, and embrace your uniqueness. At the same time, respect your partner and encourage them to do the same. You’ll both benefit.
Glanzmann emphasizes the importance of maintaining a social life outside of one’s partner. “A healthy relationship has a healthy balance of togetherness and apartness, with no one partner expecting the other to meet every emotional need. Our society exerts a lot of pressure on partners to meet all needs in a relationship, but it is vital for each partner to maintain healthy friendships outside the relationship to help carry the load,” says Glanzmann.
Your social life outside of your partner allows you to have a more dynamic perspective of yourself while also expanding your worldview. As a result, you’ll be more in tune with what makes you special, amazing, and loveable — which is what your partner was attracted to in the first place. You’ll find it easier to treasure your authenticity, find strength in it, and allow it to enrich your relationship. With a deeper sense of self, you can also add depth to your relationship.
Your partner can’t read your mind and won’t truly know how you’re feeling unless you tell them. Even though it might feel scary at times, you should be honest with your partner about your emotional state, relationship expectations, values, and aspirations. Expressing your innermost feelings sincerely and respectfully helps your partner understand you better, which allows you both to create a life that suits your authentic selves.
“In a healthy relationship, each partner can allow themselves to be influenced by the other, and they find ways to support each other’s endeavors and contributions in the world,” says Glanzmann.
By practicing empathy, you can deepen your connection with your partner rather than creating a rift by unknowingly hurting them.
Glanzman says, “While most couples pursue counseling with a desire for ‘better communication,’ it almost always runs deeper than that. More than anything, I see couples constantly hurting each other’s feelings unintentionally, and that becomes a cycle that creates increasing emotional distance over time.”
He goes on, “I believe the root of most relationship struggles has to do with perspective. I get caught up in my own perspective — the way I think and feel about what is happening in my world, and how my partner’s behavior affects me. It takes a conscious effort to empathize with others, putting myself in their shoes to feel what they feel. Many people in a relationship have difficulty placing themselves in their partner’s shoes. So it’s easy to find ourselves stuck in negative cycles in which we not only ‘miss’ each other, but end up perpetuating the cycle that drives us apart.”
If your relationship lacks empathy, you may assume that your partner’s lens aligns with your perspective. Such assumptions may result in feeling like your partner is a stranger at times. Practicing empathy requires honest questioning and active listening, instead of assuming your partner feels the same way as you.
Without trust, do you really have a relationship? Partners must be able to trust one another to be vulnerable and open to connection and deeper love. With every interaction, partners have the opportunity to build trust by being honest and tuning in to each other’s needs and desires with awareness, curiosity, and understanding.
When you’re single, you can curate your life according to your desires. You have control over how you spend your time, what you spend your money on, and how you map out your future. Alternatively, when you choose to build a life with a partner, your opinions and decisions affect one another and compromises are necessary. Working together to solve problems and make reasonable sacrifices for one another helps you to meet in the middle with love. Additionally, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to compromise can provide you with new perspectives which allow you to become more in tune with your inner self and grow as a person. By finding common ground, you will also discover a deeper sense of connection with your partner.
To keep the spark alive, partners must actively work to make each other feel loved, appreciated, and respected. The moment partners take each other for granted, they put their relationship at risk. Just like when the relationship first began, each partner should work to be vulnerable, express their love, and carve out time for each other.
Glanzmann says, “Regular check-ins with each other are important for maintaining positive communication. In our busy society, many couples get stuck in the trap of routinely ‘getting the job done’ — accomplishing parenting tasks, work tasks, and household tasks — without much of a sense of connection. Without regular times dedicated to giving each other undivided attention, partners will naturally drift apart. The relationship can be strengthened by regular check-ins that cover the details of their life and the current state of their relationship, as well as regular dates where they can simply have fun and enjoy each other’s company.”
RELATIONSHIP COUNSELING AT THRIVE
Healthy relationships are not a given. Instead, they require work. Relationship counseling can help develop the elements necessary for building and fostering a healthy relationship. Glanzmann advocates for couples therapy as a way to both nurture healthy, loving relationships and heal deeply rooted issues within struggling relationships.
He says, “Couples counseling can provide a safe environment in which partners can investigate and identify unhelpful cycles while learning to relate in healthier ways. The counselor can serve as a sounding board, a third party who can provide an outside perspective about how the couple might be ‘missing’ each other. Often, tools can be provided that improve communication and conflict resolution. Most importantly, the couple counseling session provides an uninterrupted hour on the calendar for the couple to focus energy on improving their relationship.”
Thrive’s therapists can help you heal your relationship and discover strategies to strengthen your bond with your partner. Reach out to learn more.