wellness

'I speak with psychologists regularly. Here are 5 important things I've learnt about relationships.'

As Mamamia's health and beauty writer, I talk to a lot of experts - from dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons to makeup artists, dieticians and psychologists

Yes, psychologists! Particularly relationship psychologists

Why? Because relationships are confusing as hell. And lots of people want to know what they should and shouldn't do, what's considered 'normal', and what's just one big ol' red flag.

Watch: Kyle Sandilands on relationships and kids - "I was the kid that came second". Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

So, you know what I thought would be helpful? If I pulled together some of the best advice - the golden nuggets, if you will - that I've learnt from two of Mamamia's regular relationship experts, Lissy Abrahams and Nancy Sokarno.

Below are the five of the most important expert-approved tips I've picked up about being in a relationship.

1. Arguing can be healthy.

It can! It really can. While being on the same team as your partner and being able to work together is obviously VERY important, that doesn't mean you can't disagree with one another. 

In fact, according to experts, it's not only entirely normal to argue but also really helpful in order to navigate each other's preferences and needs. How about that!

"Disagreements or arguments in a relationship can be a useful discovery tool if [they are] constructive and managed appropriately," Sokarno explained to me.

"The truth is, it’s virtually impossible to expect two people to agree on everything, and sometimes the fun is that you don’t! Whilst most people might shy away from conflict, it can often be a great opportunity to learn more about your partner – their values, ethics, and views on life."

"If you and your partner never argue, there are a couple of things to consider. Firstly, consider whether you really are that similar and if your approach to life is the same. If the answer is yes, then that’s incredible and there is no need to fix something that isn’t broken."

However, if you never argue just because one of you is too afraid to speak up or hates conflict, experts say this can be detrimental in the long run. 

"You can end up with a long list of grievances, or start to harbour resentment towards your partner, which is never a good thing."

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2. Having space is important.

According to psychologists, spending 24/7 together and having your partner constantly by your side isn’t always positive.

Every healthy relationship needs space and privacy - not only does it allow us to maintain individuality and independence, but it also keeps you in check with your emotions and helps you be a better partner.

"You need to be comfortable as an individual outside of your relationship and have time apart now and then," Sokarno told me.

"The last thing you want is for your identity to be attributed to your relationship alone – try to maintain your independence, have some of your own hobbies and be comfortable having separate friends."

3. You should ask your partner about their love language.

One of the biggest things I've learned from talking to relationship counsellors? If you don’t understand how your partner shows love, you're going to have a bad time.

Becoming aware of each other's love languages is sooo important because it'll help you better understand each other and your gestures. For example, your partner might not be good with gifts, but will always help make your life easier by offering an act of service without being asked.

While it's normal for partners to have different love languages and express feelings differently, the key is to communicate openly with each other about what you need.

"You may be missing many loving gestures as they are not on your radar," said Abrahams. "You may also become dismissive or resentful of your partner if you don’t put these gestures into the equation."

Without this, they don't know what you want from them and you don't know what they need from you.

At the same time, you want to be respectful of differences and learn to communicate and compromise - because you shouldn't necessarily try to change a person's love language. 

4. Don't avoid hurting your partner's feelings.

This sounds like such a d**k move, but experts have told me that the more hung up you are on avoiding certain topics for fear of hurting your partner, the more it can stop you from sharing your truth. 

Meaning? You just bottle everything up because you don't want to upset them. This kind of dynamic can be super toxic and really mess with a relationship.

"Most people would argue that you should never hurt your spouse’s feelings, however, there are times when honesty should trump making your partner feel good," shared Sokarno.

5. Say 'yes' more than 'no'.

When you think back to the early days of your relationship, you and your partner were probably both "yes" people. Right? Like, you'd do everything you could to make it clear you're pretty into them? Cuuute.

Unfortunately, this level of effort can kind of fade as things progress. Sad, but true! And more often than not, it can result in couples wondering if the other person really... cares about them.

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One of the biggest things I've learned from experts is just how pivotal a 'yes' position is, and how frequently saying 'no' to our partner can end up destroying the link between you and your partner and the opportunity for connection.

"Happy couples understand that when a partner invites them for lunch or a walk or to have sex, these are gifts in the relationship," Abrahams explained. "Their partner is offering the relationship opportunities to connect and have a space just for two."

"Happy couples understand that when they say yes to these opportunities, it creates space for emotional, physical, and sexual intimacy. They understand that such intimacy is a special glue that holds them together and offers a buffer to protect against harder times," said Abrahams. 

(Of course, if sex is offered and you're not in the headspace or mood, you should never feel obligated to engage - it goes without saying that sex should be consensual at all times.)

6. You should keep your identities separate.

This is a big one. Almost all of the experts I've ever talked to have highlighted this as one of the most *important* things for a healthy relationship.

Abrahams told me, "Way back when we met our partner, they had their own identity and engaged in many aspects of their life. We liked this about them and were attracted to who they were as a stand-alone individual."

"They were interesting, funny, clever, sexy, or had life experience in ways that we enjoyed. We chose to remain with this individual because out of all the other possible people on the planet to partner with, we believed this individual was the best for us."

As we start dating, we obviously start to make room for each other in our lives and prioritise this, giving up aspects of our individual identities - whether it's not seeing certain friends anymore, less time for hobbies, delaying a career choice, etc.

This only ramps up if and when you have kids - there are more demands and you have less time for your individual goals and desires. In the process, you can end up losing elements of yourself.

That's why it becomes important to find the time and space for both our own and our partner’s individual identities to be expressed. 

"We can easily lose sight of what makes our hearts sing. We may think it is selfish. It’s not, it’s life-enhancing. We may not be able to engage in everything we used to, but we all have individual hopes and desires for our time on earth," said Abrahams.

"We need to make time in our relationships for, 'I'm doing more of me' and 'you do more of you'. Relationships are a marathon, not a sprint. We need to refuel and hydrate ourselves in a way that is meaningful for each of us along the way."

What are some of the best relationship tips you've learned? Share them with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty