6 Strategies for Healthy Relationships
Updated: Apr 16
Add Kale. Just kidding. Let’s be serious; relationships are hard. Whether it’s with our family, friends, partner, or colleagues. They require actual work, time, and effort. So I collaborated with one of my favorite therapists, Rebecca Wolf (LCSW, PCGC) who specializes in marriage and relationship counseling to devise tips for making our connections less burdensome and more meaningful.
1. Be Direct
Rebecca says, “People aren’t mind readers. No one else can truly know your wants and needs. You have to be direct and tell them explicitly. They don’t know unless you tell them.”
Roger that. You don’t stroll into Starbucks and expect the barista to automatically know your order. (Okay, maybe they do, but for argument’s sake play along.) Does any healthy relationship succeed without open lines of communication? Be honest with the people in your life and articulate exactly how you are feeling. If you want your boss to look at your project, then ask them to find time in their schedule. If you need your best friend to apologize since ditching you for her new boyfriend, tell her that she hurt your feelings and stop being passive-aggressive. There’s a reason for the old adage, ask and you shall receive—it’s legit.
2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
“It is more important to be happy than it is to be right. Set your ego aside. Choose to let the little stuff go.” – Rebecca Wolf
Loading the dishwasher might be one of the smallest biggest arguments in a marriage. It’s annoying AF. Is it really about the dishwasher? Survey says: Sometimes, YES! If your sister-in-law blurts something that’s an immediate eye roll, then take a deep breath, regroup, and be less reactive. It’s not repressing, it’s disengaging. If your coworker complains about dating apps and she’s twenty-five, simply smile and nod. (She’ll see just how hard it is after thirty. Unless she becomes another Bumble success story.) When you pick a fight for the sake of winning, you don’t really win. In 2019, let’s choose to avoid the drama and not make mountains out of molehills. Sometimes avoiding conflict is simply more satisfying than being right.
3. Welcome Positive Feedback
“Don’t be dismissive of praise from the people who we should value it from the most,” says Wolf.
More often than not, we don’t appreciate admiration from our inner circle. We automatically assume it’s because “they have to.” If some random person on the street compliments our sneakers, we believe our neon Nikes are the most amazing purchase ever, yet when my bestie since kindergarten says, “Your article was fantastic,” I wonder is she being truthful or is this payback for saving her a swing at recess? Instead, trust your people and give them the credit they deserve. This can help build your confidence and self-esteem, which in turn makes for a relationships stronger.
4. Be Grateful
“A big concept that I frequently focus on with my clients is gratitude. It’s so important to be grateful for both the big stuff and the little stuff in your life. Gratitude is what keeps us sane amidst all of the day-to-day chaos.” – Rebecca Wolf
Here comes the spiritual yogi stuff that you might be tired of being force fed, but listen anyways. Be grateful for the roof over your head and the pint of Ben and Jerry’s in your freezer. Reflecting on what we have going for us and what we are doing right, allows us a reprieve from the inherent daily stressors we all experience. You’re alive, breathing, and you just saved money at Target. Score! May 2019 be the year we put in the extra effort to be grateful, in some big or small way, every day.
5. Increase Intimacy in Your Life
(Disclaimer: Apologies to those who sent this article to their significant other prior to reaching this section. You may be VERY busy later.)
When you’re in a relationship, especially a long-term relationship, sex can become monotonous. Wolf says, “As a therapist, I have seen a definite correlation between frequency of intimacy and overall relationship satisfaction (in healthy relationships). When things are good, we are doing it more often. When things aren’t good, there’s a drought. I know that one partner probably wants more emotional intimacy before they will be comfortable with the physical piece. Then the other partner claims to want more physical intimacy before they can express the emotional part. We can go round and round all day on this if you choose. But what if I told you we could kick-start your relationship by starting with the more quantifiable piece?”
Translation: create time to be intimate because it’s an integral part of human connection. And this beats sitting in the sweaty sauna they call CorePower as a way to burn cals.
“There’s a reason the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others in case of an emergency. You need to take care of yourself if you want to be a good partner or friend to someone else,” says Wolf.
Self-care is not SELFISH. Get a check-up, visit the dentist for a cleaning, eat well, stay active, read, journal, pamper yourself, or binge trashy reality TV. Do whatever makes you feel good and balanced. If that means tossing your kids in the “Junior Warrior Class” while you work out, do not hold back. It’s easy to fall into the guilt trap and convince yourself that time for you means time away from someone/thing else, but that’s not how things work. You need it. You need time for YOU. If this is the year that you want to be a better partner/friend/parent/sibling/child/colleague yada yada, then take the time to take care of yourself. Ah, I feel better already! Cheers to healthier relationships!