Let’s be real. Romantic relationships aren’t like those picture-perfect scenes from a rom-com (unless your life somehow involves unexpected rain showers and airport chase scenes). Nope. Real relationships can be much messier, full of awkward moments, misunderstandings, conflicting values, communication breakdowns, and emotional walls.
When you take two flawed humans with unique brains, different upbringings, past traumas, communication methods, attachment styles, and sexual preferences, things won’t always be cupcakes and rainbows. Think more like thorny roses and unpredictable rainstorms (and not the kind that starts right before an intense make-out scene).
But here’s the silver lining: amidst the chaos and laughter, shared interests and differences, snuggles and squabbles, lies the opportunity to truly understand and deeply connect with this human being that you’ve chosen to build a healthy relationship with.
Understanding our own mental health and taking time to recognize when we, or our partner, are struggling is key to building healthy relationships. It’s the special sauce, the magic formula, that thing that turns “Did you seriously leave the cap off the toothpaste again?” into “Hey, are you okay? You seem a bit off today.” It’s the realization that sometimes the “little things” that frustrate us aren’t just about those little things but the deeper emotional undercurrents at play.
While rom-coms end with a big kiss, heartwarming music, and rolling credits, our stories continue. And it’s our responsibility (and our privilege) to cultivate a love story that is resilient in the face of challenges, acknowledges our quirks and flaws, doesn’t sacrifice your mental well-being or value, and involves two partners willing to put in the effort and time to make the relationship work.
Are you looking for support in building a healthy relationship? Find an Ellie location near you and get matched with an individual or couple’s therapist who can help.
Understanding That Maintaining Healthy Relationships Are Work
When you set out to learn how to build a healthy relationship, whether you’re fresh on the dating scene with those exciting, nerve-wracking first date jitters, or you’ve spent years with your partner – navigating everything from financial stress to snoring habits – maintaining healthy relationships is hard work.
It’s tempting to look at other relationships and think that some couples just have that “natural chemistry” or “fate” on their side, making everything smooth sailing. But the real magic in healthy relationships often lies in the unseen: the late-night conversations, the sacrifices made, and the mistakes forgiven.
For couples to truly thrive and build a healthy relationship that stands the test of time, there needs to be a continuous cycle of reflection, communication, and adaptation. This means understanding that the idea of a “perfect relationship” is a myth. The real beauty is in the messy, raw, authentic moments where two people choose to grow together, face challenges head-on, and continually work toward creating a shared life they can be proud of.
Mastering the Art of Active Listening
“Uh-huh,” Right,” “Got it.” We’ve all thrown these around during conversations, but there’s a massive gap between simply hearing and genuinely listening. And this can be the difference between unhealthy relationships and those we’ve always dreamed of. Active listening isn’t just nodding while planning what you’re having for dinner — it’s about genuinely focusing your attention on your partner’s words while taking the time to understand the sentiments behind them. Here’s how to be a better active listener in your relationship.
We live in a world of relentless pings and notifications. But when someone is sharing with you, those pings can wait. Create a mental bubble around the two of you. Focus on their words, their expressions, their tone. Let them feel seen and heard. And don’t forget the impact of non-verbal communication. Pay attention to your body language, make eye contact, and consider maintaining physical touch.
Reflect and Repeat
Ever played the broken telephone game as a kid? It’s time to bring that skill back. After they’ve shared, paraphrase what they’ve said. Not only does this show you were paying attention, but it clarifies and confirms that you’ve grasped their sentiments. “So what you’re saying is…” can be a game-changer in showing that you understand.
Ah, the ever-present urge to chime in with, “Well, if I were you…” But pause and remember: not every problem needs your immediate solution. Sometimes, the sheer act of vocalizing a feeling or concern is therapeutic.
Expressing Emotions Constructively
Our emotions can have such a heavy pull on our thoughts, actions, and relationships – especially in a romantic relationship, where the stakes are high and hearts are on the line. Fortunately, there’s a way to express your emotions and facilitate healthy communication without an explosion. It starts with a few simple tweaks.
The Power of “I” Statements
We’ve all been there, locked in a battle of words and wits, only to blurt out, “You always forget our anniversary!” or “You never listen to me!” It’s an accusatory free-for-all. The problem? The word “You.” It often triggers defenses, leading to retaliation instead of resolution.
Enter the “I” statement: a game-changer in the world of communication. Saying, “I feel hurt when our anniversary is forgotten,” shifts the conversation from blame to understanding. It’s about voicing feelings rather than launching accusations. The result? A pathway to empathy instead of an open invitation to a verbal wrestling match.
Don’t Play the Blame Game
Remember those childhood days of finger-pointing and tattletales? Cute then, not so much now – and definitely doesn’t help you to build healthy relationships. Assigning blame is a relationship buzzkill and not found anywhere in the bucket of healthy behaviors. It’s the easiest way to shut down a productive conversation and construct emotional walls.
Rather than play detective to find out “whodunnit” and identify who is in the wrong, you can maintain healthy relationships by focusing on sharing and understanding each other’s feelings. “I feel overwhelmed and could use some help with the chores” is way more inviting than “Why don’t you ever help around the house?”
Keep Calm and Take a Break If Needed
Ever tried solving a puzzle while riding a rollercoaster? Not fun, right? Similarly, attempting to resolve issues mid-emotional whirlwind can be dizzying. If a conversation starts to boil over, it’s okay to step back. Take a breather, go for a walk, or even indulge in a few deep breaths.
Resolving Conflicts Healthily
Abusive relationships are full of conflict. But even in the most healthy relationships, every couple has conflicts. Even the sweetest of love stories have their fair share of disagreement, struggle, and tension. However, the story isn’t defined by the conflict itself but by how it’s navigated.
How many times have we heard, “You just don’t get it!”? Possibly, many. The truth is, during the conflict, most of us become fixated on being heard rather than hearing. Turning that dynamic around and applying those active listening skills we talked about earlier can change the game.
Approaching disagreements with genuine curiosity can pave the way for true understanding. Instead of jumping to conclusions or formulating a response in your mind, truly listen. You’d be amazed at how a simple “Help me understand your perspective” can lower defenses and open doors to meaningful dialogue.
Finding a Middle Ground
When faced with a conflict, meeting in the middle isn’t about diminishing your feelings or needs but acknowledging that both partners in a relationship have valid emotions and desires. It’s like a tug of war – if one side pulls too hard, both might tumble.
Look for that sweet compromise spot. Maybe it’s about alternating movie choices on date nights or dividing household chores differently. Remember, a healthy relationship thrives on balance and mutual respect.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Boundaries act as that protective fence around the relationship. Knowing when to say, “I need some space,” or understanding when your partner says, “Can we talk about this later?” can be pivotal for staying on the same page.
Whether they’re emotional, physical, or sexual boundaries, setting boundaries is about understanding and respecting each other’s limits, breaking unhealthy patterns, and caring about what makes them feel uncomfortable. It’s the silent agreement that says, “I honor your needs as much as my own.”
Fostering Emotional Connection
When the dust settles after the honeymoon phase, what keeps a relationship going? It’s not just shared responsibilities or mutual interests; it’s the deep, emotional connection they’ve nurtured over time.
Utilizing the Power of Empathy
Imagine watching a movie from your partner’s perspective, feeling their joys, pains, and everything in between. That’s empathy. It’s not just about understanding but truly feeling. When you empathize, you send a powerful message: “I’m here with you, in this moment, feeling what you feel.” This level of understanding can transform disagreements into moments of connection and make good times even more treasured.
Being vulnerable is like standing in the spotlight, raw and exposed. It’s terrifying but also liberating because it can take a lot to feel comfortable expressing yourself to someone else. When you open up about your deepest fears, unfulfilled dreams, or past mistakes, you allow your partner a glimpse into your soul. And when they do the same, you understand them better too. Vulnerability is the bridge to deeper intimacy, and it’s built brick by brick, one shared moment at a time.
Prioritizing Quality Time Together
In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to forget the simple joy of just spending time together. Whether it’s a quiet walk in the park, a spontaneous dance in the living room, or just a night in with popcorn and movies, shared experiences foster a unique bond. This time spent together will become the stories you’ll reminisce about and the glue that binds you through the highs and lows.
Supporting Your Partner Through Mental Health Challenges
Navigating relationships, especially when one person faces mental health challenges, can feel like charting unfamiliar territory. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, or another challenge, it not only tests the individual who is struggling but also the strength and resilience of the relationship. However, experiencing mental health issues doesn’t mean you and your partner can’t have a healthy relationship.
The first step towards understanding is often knowledge. Dive into credible resources or attend workshops about your partner’s specific mental health condition. Learn the warning signs and how to best support them during this time. When you comprehend the nuances of their struggles, it not only tells them that you care but also equips you with the patience and compassion required to navigate the challenging moments.
Provide a Safe Space
Mental health issues can be accompanied by the weight of stigma, shame, and isolation. Creating a safe, non-judgmental space for your partner to express themselves can be invaluable. This doesn’t mean you should become their therapist, but being an empathetic listener can make a big difference. Sometimes, all one needs is the assurance that they’re not alone in their battle.
While love is a powerful healer, professional help often plays a critical role in managing mental health issues. Encourage your partner to seek therapy or psychiatric assistance if they haven’t already. And don’t underestimate the power of couples counseling. It provides a platform to address not only individual challenges but also the dynamics of how those challenges play out within the relationship.
Upholding Your Own Mental Well-Being in a Relationship
When in a relationship, it’s easy to lose track of yourself – including your likes, preferences, and needs. While relationships can be a source of comfort and an anchor during difficult times, it’s vital to remember that each person in the relationship has a responsibility toward their own mental well-being. Ignoring your own needs can ultimately lead to exhaustion, resentment, and disconnect.
Remember that taking care of yourself isn’t a sign of selfishness. For a relationship to flourish, both individuals need to be at their best. Prioritizing your self-care and seeking help for any lingering mental health issues or challenges you’re facing ensures you bring the best version of yourself into the relationship.
This means ensuring you get enough personal time, honoring your boundaries, and taking time to focus on yourself. Also, don’t lose track of the hobbies and activities you love that help you to reduce stress. While there is a certain level of sacrifice that comes with a committed relationship, you don’t need to give up painting, hiking, yoga, reading, or other activities that ground and rejuvenate you.
And when things get tough and you feel like you’re losing control over your emotions or overall mental well-being, don’t hesitate to seek help. Have family and friends outside your relationship you can turn to, and consider seeking professional support.
Are you looking for support in being the best version of yourself possible and building a healthy relationship that lasts? Get started with Ellie Mental Health today.