Healthy Relationship

Healthy Relationships Newsletter
David B. Ward, Ph.D., LMFT

Feeling depressed, anxious, or angry? How might your relationships be contributing to these feelings? As a marriage and family therapist, I treat each of these mental health issues, but see these and other mental health concerns through the lens of relationships. At the heart of human functioning are relationships that either promote or discourage health.

As you consider the health of your own intimate partner relationships, which relationship dynamics are signs of health, and which dynamics might be a warning signal? Below are five common relationship dynamics to consider that I see regularly in my work as a marriage and family therapist.

First, healthy intimate partner relationships are maintained through choice instead of obligation. Although we are not socialized to think this way, what we all really want is to be with someone who could leave us, because they are not bound to us by obligation, but who chooses to stay because of their admiration, love, and respect for us.

Second, healthy intimate partner relationships invite each partner to give and take. Accommodation is necessary for a relationship to last, but it must go both ways. Healthy relationships allow both partners to give and receive love, care, and concern. In less healthy relationships, people feel the need to regularly and almost unilaterally accommodate to their partner at the expense of their own desires and needs.

Third, healthy intimate partner relationships allow for feedback to be given and received. Research on therapy outcomes shows that therapists who seek feedback and then adjust based on the feedback of their clients produce better outcomes. Similarly, relationships that allow for feedback to be heard and acknowledged, and when appropriate, adjustments to be made, lead to greater success.

Fourth, in healthy intimate partner relationships, partners tend to highlight strengths and see them as part of or inherent to the person, while learning to be accepting of flaws and weaknesses.

Finally, one of the foremost relationship experts, John Gottman, summed up years of research on relationship stability by stating that relationships that survive the test of time maintain a ratio of five positives for every one negative interaction. These positive interactions do not have to be big – they can be as simple as tuning into your partner when they call your name. Proactively creating positive interactions builds a foundation for success in a relationship and a foundation to deal with the inherent challenges of being in an intimate partner relationship.

(Extracted from PLU Healthy Relations Newsletter February 2019)