How strong do you feel as a couple? Know your strengths and areas for growth in your relationship.
Marriage is a lot of work, and figuring out how to build a strong relationship on trust, love, and communication is a necessary part of any healthy relationship.
And while every couple is different and has distinct needs, there are still some basic “rules” you can follow to make sure you’re finding new ways to improve your relationship with your partner or spouse every day.
Relationships are like a greenhouse. You have especially chosen your flowers and plants because they are appealing to you and give you joy.
But just like a greenhouse, relationships need loving care, hard work, and maintenance to flourish. They need nourishment to grow. Stop this maintenance, and you get weeds!
There are some things that are necessary to keep your connection with your partner thriving and happy, and I consider these elements part of the “relationship checklist.” Together, these are the keys to creating a beautiful garden — a healthy relationship.
It takes practice and willingness to be vulnerable with the person you love.
Here are 10 essential things couples need to have a strong, healthy relationship.
1. Communicate clearly and transparently.
Explicit communication is clear and transparent. Implied communication is an assumption that the other person “should” know what the other person wants.
Never assume your partner knows what you want or what you mean. Instead, ask for what you want. It’s not a guessing game.
Never assume you know what your partner wants, either. Ask questions and check things out.
2. Connect with your partner.
A connection is how emotionally close you feel to your partner. When do you feel connected to this person?
You may greet them at the door or leave a love note on their pillow… Or call to check in during the day “just because.”
For women especially, feeling connected often leads to physical intimacy. Men tend to be the opposite: For most guys, physical intimacy leads to feeling connected.
Sometimes people pick a fight to connect with the other person because they don’t know how else to feel connected. The love is still there, but the person doesn’t know how to ask for it.
3. Understand that you both have different needs.
You need to negotiate to meet yours and your partner’s individual needs.
Some couples will create an argument subconsciously to give themselves some room. Distance allows them to have some healthy “me” space.
Instead, ask for what you need. It’s normal for couples not to have the same needs.
4. Don’t lose yourself in the relationship.
You may experience a loss of self in your relationship. This is more common when couples marry young and don’t fully have their own individual identities.
A healthy relationship is about two people honoring what individually fills them up inside. This means giving yourself and your partner downtime in the form of personally rejuvenating activities.
Read a book, watch TV, or maybe have lunch with a friend. Go to the movies or out to dinner, or take a walk to calm and rejuvenate yourself and let your partner do the same.
5. Spend time together.
Carve out time just for the two of you. Make this a priority — if you don’t carve this time out, it won’t happen!
Go on a date no less than every two weeks. If it’s less frequent than two weeks, you lose most of your connection.
Date time is when you tune out the rest of the world, including the kids. “Family time” is not the same as couples’ time. The point is to reconnect as a couple… not as mom and dad.
A couple needs to play together. Focus on each other. That means no talking about the kids! Do some of the things you did when you were dating. Those activities can work again. Notice if you feel any more connected to your mate by the end of the date.
6. Be on the same page together for common goals.
Making sure you both are on the same page does not come out of power or control.
This means you have each other’s best interests in mind. Examples include one parent picking up the kids for soccer games when the other can’t, or helping your mate get tasks done. You can help with house projects or meeting life challenges together.
Supporting the other parent in terms of the parental unit presents your relationship as a united front to the kids.
7. Learn which love languages you both need.
Each of us prefers a particular method to express our love for the other person. Usually, you’ll only register “feeling loved” if that person employs the same way of expressing their love for you. However, the other person may have a different love language, which could create a disconnect.
Statistically, men tend to want to feel appreciated and that they can make the woman happy. Women want to feel understood and valued.
You need to express your love in the language of your partner, rather than in your love language.
8. Demonstrate your trust and respect for one another.
Feeling emotionally safe and secure in the relationship is incredibly important. Each partner must demonstrate mutual respect, dignity, and trust.
You have each other’s “back.” There is no betrayal nor emotional, verbal, or physical abuse.
Learn about the other person and respect them — don’t use blame.
If one partner feels hurt, the other immediately apologizes even if they don’t agree that the act was hurtful.
It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about demonstrating mutual respect for one another. It’s essential to try to understand the perspective of the other person. It’s not about agreement.
9. Watch out for common pitfalls.
Each partner waiting for the other to change first is an example of a common pitfall in relationships.
Another is not demonstrating positive intention and effort so you both feel safe. Each partner needs to make an effort that doesn’t depend upon the initiative of the other person. When this happens, one partner might attribute a negative intention in general to the other’s words and actions.
This intention becomes a filter through which you experience your partner and can negatively color what is occurring. Be sure that you’re not confusing a past event with the present regarding an unresolved issue. Focus on what is right, rather than what is wrong.
10. Remember that relationships are work.
If you don’t water the garden… your relationship will begin to grow weeds. Determine as a couple where your strengths and weaknesses lie and where you can improve things.
What would you like from your partner? Remember, it’s not about being right or wrong. Avoid blaming.
Finally, sit down together and discuss this. Come up with a plan of action on how to utilize some of these concepts and activities so you can have a healthy relationship going forward where both partner’s needs are being met.
Give specific examples for each issue you discover and discuss it together.
Determine an action plan for those areas needing improvement, but don’t forget to celebrate your strengths and improvements, too.
If you’re overwhelmed by the process or don’t know where to start, don’t be afraid to seek short-term couples’ counseling to help with this process, either!
Susan Saint-Welch LMFT is a couples and individuals counselor and psychotherapist who works with dating, marriage, and family issues as well as many others. For more information on how she can help you have the relationship you’ve longed for, visit her website.
This article was originally published at Life and Relationships 101. Reprinted with permission from the author.