couples

"Socialise as a couple." The 7 things all healthy relationships have, according to the experts.

Relationships, huh? They are complex undertakings. Two people coming together, bringing with them all their unchecked baggage, cultural conditioning, and childhood trauma. What could go wrong? 

Well, often a lot goes wrong in relationships. 

And while it’s great that we’re becoming more aware of unhealthy behaviours to avoid in relationships like gaslighting and love bombing, are we just as aware of some things that we can do to create more healthy relationships? 

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In a bid to do just that, we’ve compiled a list of habits seen in healthy relationships, according to the experts.

So, let’s dive in.

1. Build and share love maps.

Hold up, what’s a love map and where exactly is it supposed to take me? 

Okay, so love maps are a concept developed by psychologist, couple’s therapist and co-founder of The Gottman Institute, Dr. John Gottman. 

In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman describes a love map as "that part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life". 

Essentially, love maps are about intimately understanding your partner’s inner world. It’s prioritising learning about your partner in all their different iterations and recognising that the process of getting to know them is an endless and ongoing journey. 

It’s underpinned by a practice of regularly asking your partner questions about all aspects of their life and intently listening to the answer.

Love maps are said to strengthen intimacy within relationships and they’re something Tamara Cavenett, president of the Australian Psychological Society, agrees can be incredibly helpful for couples.

"In my practice, I'll see people who have a history of hurt or damage from something that has happened to them in the past and that will very much play out in a relationship at times," she explains. 

"However, if the other partner understands what happened to them and why they react that way, it can often make things a lot healthier, and you can approach people with a lot more understanding."

2. Nurture fondness and admiration.

This is probably one of those things that you do without even thinking about it at the start of a relationship but may need to consciously practise over time, especially as extra stresses are added to the relationship such as children, health challenges, or other major life upheavals.

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Tamara says cultivating fondness and admiration comes down to focusing and acknowledging the positives.

"It's those warm moments when you see that person at the end of the day when they come home," she explains. 

"It's all those times when you actually notice the things that they do well, you give them compliments, or acknowledge anything they've done that might be a success."

3. Solve solvable problems.

It sounds obvious, but if you have a problem – no matter how big or small – and you can solve it, you should for a couple of reasons. 

As Tamara explains, "A lot of what I see is people who have a problem with a very simple solution that might not resolve the whole issue but could take 10 per cent of the heat out. 

"Sometimes that's as simple as everyone yelling in the morning. We're always running late and there’s a lot of conflict in those moments. 

"However, if we were ready the night before and had put some schedules and routines in place, as frustrating as they are, it would reduce the level of conflict. So it's realising which problems can be solved and solving them."

4. Work on a joint project together.

According to experts, doing new things together can breathe new life into relationships, and taking on a joint project can be a great way for couples to experience a mutual sense of accomplishment.

Jay Shetty, author, podcaster, purpose coach and former monk, explains, "If you're losing intimacy, it’s because your lives are completely separate. 

"When you take on a project together, you deepen your intimacy and you deepen your commitment. As a couple in a relationship, achieve things together. A project gives you a very tangible, short-term or long-term goal that focuses your connection on something meaningful."

Jay says projects don’t have to be extravagant or even all that significant. It could be as simple as planning your next holiday together. 

So long as you’re regularly spending time together, discussing the details and working towards a common goal, you’ll end up building intimacy and connection through the process, which is what it’s all about.

5. Demonstrate respect for one another and your relationship.

Again, this seems obvious, but all the experts agree that showing respect for your partner and your relationship is a critical component of any healthy relationship.

Melissa Ferrari, a psychotherapist and relationship expert, says, "The most important thing in a healthy relationship is to always put your relationship first, to be there for each other and to support each other – to always have each other’s back, both privately and publicly."

Relationship coach Renee Brown says respect in relationships can be found in bringing equal value to a relationship.

"I see this as a really great attribute to have where both people really respect what each other brings to the relationship," she explains.

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When it comes to what not to do to build respect in relationships, Tamara says showing contempt can be one of the most damaging behaviours as she explains, "Most people don't realise this, but there is quite clear research showing contempt in a marriage is a predictor for divorce. So really watch how you treat the other person."

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6. Socialising as a couple.

According to the experts, socialising together as a couple is a great way to see your partner through other people’s eyes. When we socialise, we’re usually in good spirits, which have a habit of making everyone seem more appealing. 

It also gives you the opportunity to see your partner outside your daily domestic situations, which brings a fresh perspective to your relationship. 

Jay explains further, "Research and interviews by the University of Maryland found that healthy couple friendships have the potential to make relationships more exciting and more fulfilling by increasing attraction, providing a greater understanding of men and women in general... and allowing partners to observe the way other couples interact and negotiate differences."

7. Hold regular relationship meetings.

Whilst romantic relationships and weekly schedules might not seem like the most likely of pairings, regular meetings ensure you’re making good on one fundamental of all healthy relationships: communication.

Psychotherapist and clinical social worker Marcia Naomi Berger suggests couples hold weekly 'marriage meetings' and talk through a set agenda that covers:

  • Expressing appreciation – notice the small (and big) things your partner does and actively show your gratitude for them.

  • Coordinating chores – aka the 'business part of the meeting' where you talk through what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who’s going to do it.

  • Planning for good times – firm up your next date night, holiday or activities (either individually, as a family or with friends).

  • Resolving problems – each person can bring a maximum of two issues or challenges they’re having to discuss each week.

Of course, the same principle applies whether you're married or not and you can obviously call your meeting whatever the hell you like. The main thing is you’re putting aside 30 minutes (or less) per week to connect uninterrupted to build intimacy and create an environment to openly resolve conflict, and really, who doesn’t want that? 

Ultimately, with relationships, knowing what you want from it is always going to be one of the healthiest things you can do, and that starts on an individual level.

As Renee says, "I always say to my couples that you have the power to design your own relationship for you and not every relationship has to look the same. So sitting down and really identifying what you want from yourself and from your partner is probably the best way to go about creating healthy relationships."

What are some healthy habits you’ve introduced into your relationship and how do you find they help? Let us know in the comments below. 

Emily McGrorey is a full-time reader, part-time procrastinator, freelance writer, casual Pilates student and eternal aspiring author. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Feature Image: Canva.

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