Good relationships are arguably the most important thing in our lives. Sure, good health, education and financial success can make a huge difference to our quality of life. However, it’s the quality of our relationships in the long-term that has been shown to have a huge bearing on our happiness.
That’s because strong, meaningful and caring relationships help us feel healthier, happier, and more satisfied. As we age, good relationships are also strongly correlated with better mental health as well as better physical health and even longer life expectancy.
What makes a healthy relationship?
Healthy relationships take time, effort and commitment. That means making daily choices that put your relationship first and your ego second. While no two relationships are the same, here are six solid bits of universal advice to get the most out of your relationship.
1) Respect yourself in order to respect others
The most important piece of relationship advice? Respect yourself in order to respect others. In fact, you may have heard the expression “you need to love yourself first to love someone else”. The concept is much the same.
Respect is crucial to a healthy relationship, so make sure that the relationship you have with yourself is a positive one. Quite simply, self-love is the key to happiness with others.
So live every day with the confidence and pride to know who you are and what you want to do, and surround yourself with people who make you feel good.
What else can help you look after yourself? Don’t neglect self-care. Maintain your physical fitness. Give yourself time out when you need it. And look after your mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
2) Respect your partner
Respect is obviously crucial to a relationship. It shows through words, actions and behaviour, and the sum of it all adds up to how you treat someone.
Respect for someone comes in many forms. To be respectful means valuing each other’s opinions and treating each other in a thoughtful, considerate and caring way.
A good way to really build on that is to discuss and establish boundaries. Know what’s ok, what’s out of bounds, and agree beforehand on how to best resolve conflict. For example, are you irritated by your partner’s constant use of their smartphone, or is feeling like you’re not being listened to making you frustrated? Rather than losing it at them, calmly and rationally explain how it makes you feel.
The same goes if it’s the other way round. Think about how you’d like to be treated if your partner asked you to change or stop something they found annoying.
3) Be the best listener that you can
Being a good listener is one of the most important things you can do, not just in your intimate relationships but also in your social and business life. That’s because showing someone you’re a good listener is a silent way of demonstrating that you respect, value and are actively and attentively engaging with them.
Many of us believe ourselves to be good listeners. In fact, good listening involves a lot more than just hearing words. For example, it’s very easy to hear what someone says but still be visibly distracted by your phone or the TV because there’s no eye contact or proper verbal acknowledgment. While everyone does this occasionally, repeatedly acting in this way sends the message that you’re physically present, but really you’re only paying lip service to the other.
Genuine listening is as much about hearing as it is about acknowledging the other. It can take a surprising amount of effort, often because we’re so caught up in just waiting for our turn to speak.
Thankfully, it’s never too late to become a better listener. Try some active listening techniques, be mindful of not interrupting or talking over others, and spend a few moments thinking about what the other person said before responding. You may find it works wonders.
4) Master communication
While listening (see above) is a crucial part of effective communication, the ability to clearly and effectively express yourself is just as important.
To that end, it’s worthwhile investing a little time and energy into becoming a better communicator.
Apart from making the effort to be a better listener, understanding how you say things can be just as important as what you say. You can, for example, let someone know how you feel about a difficult topic such as financial trouble or raising children, without it turning into conflict — for example, by telling your partner about these issues, but without casting blame, being evasive, talking and acting in an aggressive or confrontational tone, providing advice (and possibly being seen as a lecturer), or insisting you fix the situation.
These last points are especially common among men. Many blokes are taught to be the ‘fixers’ but often their partner just wants to feel heard.
Importantly, don’t assume your partner always knows what’s going on or how you’re feeling — tell them! So much conflict comes from misunderstandings.
5) Don’t just be in the same room, be there together
Most of us believe that we spend a lot of time with our partners, but how much of that time is really with our full attention engaged on them?
It’s one thing to spend breakfast with someone while you flick through social media on your phone. It’s quite another to actively listen, engage in conversation, and push away all distractions.
So put away or switch off the phone, tablet, TV, game controller and keep your mind focused on what’s happening in that moment. The day may well begin with trivial conversation, but the meaningful rapport that eventually comes from it needs to start somewhere.
6) Accept and celebrate your differences
Imagine if everyone thought exactly as you did? It may seem like a nice idea at first, but once you realise that you’d agree on everything, you’d quickly run out of conversation topics.
Everyone is different and that’s a huge part of the fun of a relationship. Indeed, truly loving and caring for someone means accepting all of them: the good and the bad, their quirks and behaviour, their flaws and all.
Focus on the best aspects of their character and forgive them for any perceived failings — just as they love and forgive you for yours.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.