Over the past 13+ years in practice and experiencing my own ups and downs in relationships, several healthy traits of couples continue to rise to the top. And although I don't have all the answers, whether married or coupled up - being able to make these part of your relationship really does make a difference. They certainly have made a difference in my life and in my marriage. I cannot stress the importance of these enough and discussing these with couples is always part of our dialogue in therapy.
1) They have a sense of autonomy. Simply put: each person in the relationship functions independently. They are their own person within the couple. They engage in activities outside of the relationship they enjoy - like spending time with friends, hobbies, volunteering - whatever it might be that brings them happiness without worrying how it will affect their relationship. This gives each person time away from each other, to miss one another, and to have new things to talk about, while concurrently enhancing their own self identity and cultivating their own interests. Each person encourages and supports their partner's interests and doesn't feel threatened by them.
2) They manage their own stuff. Our #1 responsibility in life is to take care of ourselves. Period. They know how to manage their emotions - without relying on their partner to do it. When they mess up, they take responsibility for that too. They seldom say 'you made me feel', 'if you didn't do that, then I wouldn't do that.'
3) They communicate - but not too much. Sure, communication is key in a relationship, but I have found some people (mainly women) want to talk their relationship to death! By this I mean that they want to continue to talk about things instead of just living their relationship and being present as it continues to unfold. I recognize in the beginning of a relationship, there is a lot of dialogue that takes place as people get to know one another. But peppered in all that talk should also be quiet time, time the couple is doing things - together and separately - and just being. What's the negative side of too much communication? Sometimes too much talking makes the other person feel overwhelmed and some say, ' suffocated.' They want to run for the hills. So where is the middle ground? They carve out time to talk and connect without electronic distractions. Because a conversation can take place with less time without distractions and its less frustrating! Sounds so simple, yet.. They recognize the need for healthy communication and when a deeper conversation needs to take place, they make the time. It happens more organically. Both people are invested in making the time and don't put up roadblocks.
And, communicating with their partner or spouse isn't an all day thing. Meaning- if you text them all day, what are you talking about when you get home or finish work? Healthy couples recognize they are both working. Translation? They are busy! Let them work. They don't feel slighted if they don't hear from one another all day or if they do, its just a quick 'check in' to see how they are doing or how their day is going. The stress this creates when the need of one to constantly communicate with another creates significant conflict.
4) They create space. Space is a strength - when used the right way. I look at it as a bridge that connects, not something that separates. Couples who recognize that the greatest gift they give to one another is the space that exists between them, reaps the positive benefits to that – growth. Because they don't feel threatened or insecure when they are not together, they can continue to grow as an individual, allowing time for their own self-reflection and growth. As a person continues to grow, it only helps them grow as a couple. Space also means being in the same room or at home together, but not talking. If the person has work to do, wants to read, has a hobby - they engage in that without feeling they have to be communicating. They can just 'be.'
And time apart means they have new things to talk about! They remain curious about one another because each person sees the other one being their best version. They don't begrudge them when are successful or are jealous. They are truly happy for their partner and remain committed.
5) They share domestic responsibilities (and don't keep score!). This one is always a kicker! For many couples, this is huge source of conflict. And seriously, why is one person asking the other person for 'help?' I don't get that. Couples who do this and don't keep score are able to work together, have a conversation around shared responsibilities and then just do. They don't keep score (I folded the clothes, I unloaded the dishwasher, etc). Sometimes one person does more, but that's ok. They say 'thanks' when the other person does something without making it melodramatic.
Of course, these are just a handful of the many things that healthy couples do that help them continue to thrive and grow!
What would you add to the list?
Dr. Kristin Davin (AKA "Dr. D") is a Divorce Mediator and Clinical Psychologist practicing in New York City. Her approach is based upon Cognitive Behavior Therapy combined with Solution Focused Therapy. You can learn more at www.kristindavin.com .