Why do some relationships stand the test of time, while others fall apart? Here are some simple strategies for building a relationship that will thrive.
If you read gossip pages or celebrity magazines, you may think that no relationship lasts in this country anymore. Unfortunately, the reality of our romantic relationships isn’t too far from that. It is currently estimated that almost half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce.
With so many breakups going on, how is it that some couples thrive while the rest fail to survive? The truth is that it takes some work to keep relationships healthy. And most people find that the work is well worth the effort when their relationship is still going strong decades after it began. Some simple strategies can help couples strengthen their romantic relationships, no matter what obstacles they face together.
Maintain the Right Ratio
Christine M. Allen, PhD, knows about maintaining a romantic relationship. Not only is she a psychologist and a life coach, but she has also had a strong, healthy relationship with her husband for more than 25 years in the hustle and bustle of New York City.
The secret, Dr. Allen says, is to make sure the positives in the relationship outweigh the negatives by at least a 5:1 ratio. “If you have a lot of complaints, it helps to counterbalance that with a lot of praise, recognition, and affection for all the things that go right in your life,” she says.
Allen has important suggestions to help you maintain that special balance. “When possible, turn a complaint into a request,” she says. “In other words, rather than say, ‘It is thoughtless to be late,’ say, ‘I would like you to call me if you are going to be late.’ Also make any complaining specific to an action. For example, say, ‘When you do X, I feel Y.’”
Striking a Balance
This idea of finding the right ratio in a healthy relationship applies not only to the positives and negatives, but to all aspects of the relationship. Says Allen, “It is important to have shared activities, whether they be going to the movies, playing golf, or having conversation. Each partner in a couple can enjoy time together and time apart from the other. In a healthy romance, you do not expect to get all of your needs met by your partner in some idealized or unrealistic way.”
When there are children in the relationship, the same rules of balance need to apply, says Allen. “Have a date night, even if you don’t go out of the house,” she suggests. “Have dinner together without the children one night a week. Feed them early, and let them watch a DVD while you have a grown-up dinner.”
Of course, some fighting is inevitable in a relationship, but Allen says it’s how you handle those disagreements that marks the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. “Do not avoid conflict, as avoiding conflict can be the kiss of death over time in relationships. But don’t vent anger toward each other in a conflict,” she says. “Instead, manage hurt and anger, so it is neither withheld nor vented on your partner. Use awareness of hurt and anger to express more directly and constructively your needs and concerns.”
Keeping the Romance Real
The other critical component of a healthy relationship is to make physical contact and intimacy a priority. Here again, you have to actively work at this part of your relationship to keep it fresh and vital through the years. And this aspect of the relationship doesn’t always have to be about sex, says Elaine Ducharme, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and an adjunct professor at at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
“People can actually feel more intimate just sharing a cup of coffee in a small café or walking hand-in-hand than having sex,” Ducharme says. “Take time in the evening to touch, not necessarily have sex. Lie in bed together, or sit on the sofa and gently massage your partner’s arm or neck. It is a wonderful way to connect and have feelings of relaxation connected to each other.”
Ultimately, a healthy, long-lasting relationship is a partnership. “A healthy romance is one in which each partner sees the best in the other and each of you becomes better than you would have been on your own,” says Allen. “Your partner’s love for you and appreciation of you helps you continue to believe more in yourself. We also accept the other person’s foibles and do not judge him or her on the small stuff.”