What really IS a healthy relationship anyway?

This month, our members were given a masterclass about relationships. In between work, children’s activities, housework and social events, relationships need nurturing. We all want a healthy marriage, but:

What really IS a healthy relationship anyway?

Sabina ReadTo help us navigate through the challenges and questions of relationships, we welcomed Melbourne psychologist and social commentator Sabina Read to share her insights from her experience working with couples and families. (Members have access to the full webinar recording in your , along with all the other webinars, workbooks and member tools).

Sabina set us straight up front: Healthy relationships are not typified by the absence of conflict and both couples being perfectly ”happy”. A healthy relationship exists when the couple are good friends and can repair quickly after conflict. Each individual in the marriage has their own ‘love language’ and one person’s way of expressing love might be different to the others which can cause pain and confusion. There is no universal notion of happiness, so just focus on what’s ‘healthy and happy’ to you and your partner. And the only way to know that is to check in with the other person regularly. Create ongoing dialog around what each other’s needs are and how you’re travelling and what’s working and not working.

  • What do most couples fight about? During the webinar we launched a poll to find out what you fight about most often. Here’s what you said:
    • Contribution to the couple or family unit (chores, roles, responsibilities) = 67%
    • Parenting = 33%
    • Finances = 17%
    • In-laws = 0%

These results were consistent with Sabina’s research. But here’s the clincher: it’s not the TOPIC that we fight about that’s indicative of the state of the relationship, it’s the way we REPAIR from the fight. It’s not about the ‘content’, that’s important it’s about the ‘process’. The process is how we RELATE to each other, the space between one another. Her advice: don’t expect to always reach a resolution: in fact, 69% of issues that couples argue over can NEVER be resolved. We just need to understand each other’s perspectives. We feel like we’re banging our heads against a brick wall because we’re having the same arguments over and over. What’s really going on is that we don’t feel understood and don’t feel validated by our partner. Give yourself permission to say ‘we may not get a resolution on this’. The goal, therefore, should be about understanding one another. That’s what we human beings desire most: ‘understand MY perspective, look through MY glasses, walk a while in MY shoes’.

  • What lies behind criticism and complaints? “You’re never home on time! You just don’t get it – I carry the load on my own every day – I’m here dealing with the kids, the dinner, the homework and you’re never here!” (Sound vaguely familiar?) Behind every criticism and complaint is an unmet need. What you could ask yourself is “What need might I have that’s not being met?” Then you can reframe the complaint to expressing a need. Give yourself permission to express your needs so that it’s valid and important and someone can hear it. Often, if we can see that our need is being heard, our pain is less acute. The need might be that I need your support at home during this end of the day. The solution? Reframe the moan!
  • Some advice for dealing with arguments:
    • Agree to take a break – in the heat of an argument, our pre-frontal cortex cannot deal with what’s going on, we get totally flooded and lose clarity and perspective. When we’re overwhelmed emotionally we need to take a break. It’s very important that we need to make a commitment to each other to return to the discussion when we have calmed down. Agree how you will handle arguments. When things are calm, have the conversation that we WILL disagree and have arguments, but let’s agree, for example, that we’ll come back to it before we go to sleep that night.
    • Share responsibility – (for the argument). Sabina often hears from clients: “If he or she was more like me, then we wouldn’t argue”. Don’t expect the other person to be like you. And don’t start arguments with YOU ALWAYS or YOU NEVER.
    • Avoid personalising in the issue – don’t name call, don’t use hostile humour and sarcasm and insult, that’s playing the man and not the ball. Stay on the issue.
    • Listen and repeat back what you heard – Often we hear our partner say something and literally in seconds before we’ve processed what they’ve said, we are ready to retaliate and our defences are up. Try this: repeat back in a journalistic style – (not sarcastically) what you heard. Check that you heard the message in the way that it was meant to be delivered.
    • Validating instead of agreeing – this means to show you understand. “I can understand that you would feel that way.” Or “that makes sense that you would like to be home earlier”. This can be confusing to people because they think that if they validate they’re agreeing and they don’t want to agree so they don’t validate. Validating doesn’t mean that we’re agreeing to come home earlier, it just means that we’re understanding what’s being shared. Validating lets your partner know that his or her perspective is important. The need to be understood is a key driver for us as humans.
  • In summary, here are some tips for keeping relationships strong :
    • Arguments are a part of a healthy relationship – focus on the process of Repair as your goal.
    • Treat each other like friends. Show genuine interest in one another
    • Self-edit criticisms by remembering that behind most criticisms is an unmet need
    • Seek help before it’s too late
    • Have high standards for your relationship
    • Bring up issues gently
    • Focus on what’s working rather than what’s not working
    • Continue courting

Thank you to Sabina for your guidance, support and for inspiring us to all to nurture and prioritise our relationships. Thank you also for sharing your valuable experience with us and igniting the passion for our most important relationships.

Not a member? Join today and gain instant access to our Milking It program which provides you with coaching, tools and resources for your success in your life, business and home.

Follow Sabina on twitter: @ReadSabina

Website: www.sabinareadpsychology.com.au

Further reading: visit The Gottman Institute: World renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, John Gottman has conducted 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples.

I would love to hear your comments on this post. What do you most identify with?

For more information, guidance and to follow Sabina, visit her website: