The 7 Keys to a Happy & Healthy Relationship: Part 2
***This is part 2 of a 2 part series***
InPart 1of this series, I shared that there are several factors that contribute to happy romantic relationships. I also revealed that those same things were equally important in ALL relationships! Regardless if you are talking about a parent-child relationship, a friendship, or a marriage, they all require the same ingredients to make it healthy!
In this series, we're dissecting some of the core foundations to any happy and healthy relationship. I'm showing you how the keys to being a successful parent are the same to a happy marriage!
We've boiled it all down to 7 key elements! We're looking at each one independently, and by the time we're done, you'll see how being a great parent will also make you an awesome spouse! So far, we've reviewed:
Now it's time to wrap things up and check out the last 4 keys to happy and healthy relationships!
Next up is an obvious one and it's Communication. (Duh!) The ability to communicate effectively and clearly makes a huge difference in all relationships. The better you are at expressing yourself, the healthier your relationships will be.
But there's a lot more to communication than meets the eye. Most people get that communicating verbally is pretty important, but non-verbal communication is also a huge piece to this puzzle!
In the era of texting and instant messaging, miscommunication is rampant! Why? Because without facial expressions, body language, as well as tone of voice, it is incredibly hard for people to understand the true meaning of someone's verbal message.
Think about it, was there ever a time when someone texted you and you thought they were mad at you? Or maybe your spouse texts you a message that sounds rude or aggressive, making you feel annoyed and angry in return. Then, you find out that they were trying to be funny, making a joke, etc.
Without being able to read the other person's body language and facial expressions, it made it really difficult for you to understand what that person's intentions were. As such, there was miscommunication.
Something that has gone a long way in solving this little problem are emojis! Those little yellow faces have done wonders to help us communicate the emotions behind our messages to others. Just remember that many of us may use "happy" emojis to convey that we are just "fine" when in reality we aren't happy at all! As such, emojis can be incredibly helpful to avoid miscommunication, but they can also exacerbate it if we aren't using the emoji that truly conveys are emotional state.
Apart from the mechanics of communication (i.e. verbal & nonverbal cues), remember that communication goes so much deeper than all of that! Let's first consider that communication is a 2-way street. You have the communicator (the person talking) and you have the listener. In order to have effective communication, we need to consider both sides of this coin!
Active Listening is an art. Some of us are wonderful at it, but most of us could seriously use some improvement. There's a difference between "hearing" someone and actually "listening." If we were to google these two words, we'd get the following definitions:
Hearing: "the faculty of perceiving sounds"
Listening: "to give one's attention to a sound"
We you are "hearing" someone, your ears are actually perceiving the sounds coming from the communicator, but it doesn't mean you are actually listening. To listen to someone means that you are giving attention to what the communicator is saying.
Let's take this a step further and consider that ACTIVE listening is not only giving attention to what the communicator is saying, but it is considering, weighing, and giving respect to that person's words. This is HUGE!
Think about the last time you were debating someone about politics. Chances are you were definitely hearing them, but were you actively listening????
Most of us are guilty of hearing but not listening to others, especially about topics we are passionate about. If the communicator is expressing an opinion we don't share, you are probably thinking about how you are going to argue your point in return versus reallyconsidering and weighing what the communicator is saying. As a result, the conversation turns into a heated argument versus a genuine and passionate conversation.
Failure to actively listen to others in our relationships OR consistently feelings like others are not actively listening to us leads to consistent arguing and a sense of dissatisfaction in a relationship. Your romantic relationships and friendships will suffer if active listening can't be mastered. But what about your parent-child relationship?
Yup! That one suffers too! The tough part about Parent-Child Relationships is that you can't really expect your child to be a great communicator OR listener. They're kids, remember??? But YOU have to be on point with this one.
Seems unfair, right??? But alas, it's true. As the parent, you've got those years of maturity and wisdom on your side, not to mention a fully developed brain that allows you to have better reasoning and impulse control. It's YOUR job to model to your kids how to be an effective communicator and a great active listener. Provide this to your kids and they'll be light-years ahead of the game!
There's so much more we could talk about when it comes to communication, such as how to be clear, direct, and congruent in how you communicate, but if you can at least master those verbal and non-verbal cues, along with active listening, you'll do just fine!
5. Quality Time/ Relational Narrative
Next up on the list is quality time! Every relationship needs quality time spent together. Without it, how do you nurture and foster the relationship?
Think about it, you go out for coffee with friends or call to catch-up on each others' lives, you go on dates with new romantic interest to get to know them or find some "alone time" with your spouse to re-connect as husband and wife, and you also try to find time to play with your kids in order to bond with them.
No matter what the relationship is, quality time is an essential ingredient to a happy and healthy one! But why??? Why is spending time together so important?
It comes down to something known as a Relational Narrative. The Relational Narrative is what the story of your relationship is all about. The more happy and fun times you have together, the more happy and fun your memories are. So, as you look back on the relationship, you remember it as happy and fun. Essentially, your narrative (i.e. story) is one of fun and happiness!
The same logic follows for all relationships, whether it's romantic, platonic, business related, or familial. If you have many romantic memories then expect the story to be one of romance. If you have many angry or argumentative memories, then the story will be one of conflict. The flavor of the time spent together will change the nature of your relational narrative.
But let's say you've had a rough week and so you've been irritable and cranky lately. Does that mean your relational narrative changes over night??? Well, kind of, but not really. Overall, your relational narrative is based off of your overall time spent together, but recent events can sour the story and cause it to take a sharp turn. Let's look at an example to better understand this....
Try to think of a couple you know that may have gotten a divorce. Most likely, they had been together for years and had many happy memories together. Then, the couple fell on hard times.
Typically, major life stressors will throw relationships for a loop. Perhaps they lost their house, experienced the death of a child, or there was infidelity. Even though there are YEARS worth of positive and happy memories, making their relational narrative a solid and happy one, the recent events (whatever it may be) are significant and hit the individuals within that relationship very hard.
As a result, patience, tolerance, and respect are short, leading to more frequent bickering and arguing. This, in turn, causes that relational narrative to take a sharp turn into a dark place. Past events that were once viewed joyously are now perceived with skepticism and bitterness. And this process causes the relational narrative to become a story of anger, hate, or conflict.
The important thing to remember about relational narratives is that they change. Just because the narrative starts off one way, it doesn't mean that it will stay that way. As such, all relationships are a work-in-progress. You got to keep working and engaging in quality time to make sure the relational stories in your life remain happy and positive.
For more ideas on Relational Narratives, you can check out my post:
Next up is emotional intimacy, which can also be conceptualized as emotional vulnerability. Any healthy relationship needs to have individuals who are willing to be emotionally honest and vulnerable with one another. Coupled with our first key, Respect, emotional intimacy allows for 2 individuals to share, understand, and cope together.
The bottom line: Emotional intimacy is about knowing who the other person is in the relationship at their best and worst. It's understanding the core of what makes up that individual.
But emotional intimacy can be scary because so many of us want to hide from the hurts and emotionally-ugly parts of ourselves. And so many of us have a fear that if people really knew us, they wouldn't want us. So many of us walk around experiencing impostor syndrome because we fail to allow others to penetrate the true core of our emotional selves.
But the truth is that solid, happy, and healthy relationships (when coupled with respect, boundaries & limits, communication, and independence) require emotional intimacy in order to thrive! If you constantly hide your true emotional self from your partner and friends, then your relationship is built upon a facade. This means that you won't truly ever be happy in the relationship because you'll always be holding back and hiding yourself.
Now, in a parent-child relationship, emotional intimacy will look a little different. You'll be wanting your child to be 100% open and transparent with you. That's pretty healthy, but you won't be able to be 100% open and transparent with them. This would cross a healthy boundary in the parent-child relationship. This doesn't mean, however, that you couldn't be 100% honest with your child. Let's look at an example to better understand this super delicate balance.
Let's say you are getting a divorce. You would want your child to be 100% open and transparent with you about their feelings surrounding the divorce. Some of those thoughts and emotions might be difficult to hear (i.e. "I'm mad at you for divorcing Dad!"), but having the wide open line of communication allows for your child to process this life event in a healthy way.
Now, here's the fine line you'd have to learn to walk. Although you wouldn't want to be 100% open and transparent with your child about the divorce:
Don't do this: "Well, I hate your dad now because he's such a jerk! That's why I'm dumping him."
You do want to be 100% honest with your child, which allows you to have emotional intimacy without crossing that healthy boundary:
Do this instead: "Well, sometimes people fall out of love with one another, and so they get a divorce. This allows them to find love again."
I know my example is a little exaggerated, but you'd be surprised how many families I work with that say things like this all the time. It might seem obvious, but when your emotions are raw, it's a lot harder to control those impulses to be aggressive and to remain in control.
Hopefully you can see that, although emotional intimacy is played out a little differently in the parent-child relationship, it's still a key part to making the relationship a happy and healthy one.
7. Physical Intimacy
Finally, we move onto our final key, and this one is all about physical intimacy. The research is there to show that human beings thrive off of touch. Consider the rise of "skin to skin care" of newborn babies as a prime example of this. Virginia Satir was a famous Marriage & Family Therapist whose work helped to define the field. Touch was one of her 5 core interventions she purposed in her version of Experiential Family Therapy.
All relationships have some sort of physical intimacy. From holding hands and hugs, to kisses and sex, every relationship uses touch as a way to convey different meanings. Even business relationships utilize touch! (Think about that handshake you give a new business contact or give to your colleagues at a holiday party.)
For romantic relationships, it's pretty obvious how touch plays a part in the relationship. And it is pretty safe to say that a marriage with no physical intimacy is probably in a fairly dark place. Friends often display physical intimacy too, such as hugs, handshakes, pats on the shoulder/back, etc.
Parent-child relationships are also ripe with touch! From skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding in infancy to cuddles, hugs, and kisses with your child. As parents, we are constantly holding and touching our kids to help them feel loved, supported, comforted, and nurtured.
Can You Master the 7 Keys?
We've reviewed the 7 keys to happy and healthy relationships. As a reminder, they were:
By now, we've seen how these 7 concepts are essential in all relationships. If you can master them, you'll find yourself in a happy and healthy marriage and raising happy and healthy children! To top it off, when you are living in happy and healthy relationships, you will thrive!
With that said, I wish YOU a happy and healthy life!