A happy long term relationship enriches our lives providing love, friendship, support and care for us and our families. Happy relationships promote well being and good health. However we can be unprepared for the challenges that relationships may present. There are three key areas to consider when we build our partnerships to be a source of happiness and support for us:
- Our own levels of reactivity and emotionality and how these impact on the relationship – steering ourselves to positive emotionality rather than negative emotionality. Watch out if you are becoming critical, aggressive, over emotional, alienated, defensive. If you find yourself heading in this direction, take stock and get some help for yourself, talk things over, find out what is setting you off. The relationship may have difficulties, but you are responsible for the negative actions, which you bring into the relationship.
- Our dynamic with our partner – how we relate on a daily basis, how we manage conflict, how we make decisions on key issues for our lives. Communication is often talked about as the key to good relationships and this is true. Being able to communicate positively and openly on an everyday basis as well as about challenging problems, actually takes a lot of skills and knowledge. Many of us may not have these good relationship communication skills but they can be easily learnt. One key skill is to build love maps, ask your partner open ended questions about what he or she is interested in, aspiring to, or worried about. This love map will help you to understand your partner’s inner psychological world and your partner will feel known in the relationship.
- Our relationship with significant others – how we relate as a couple with our friends, family, extended family and possibly step children and blended family. Having a supportive and positive relationship with significant others will keep our own relationship healthy and well. We need to be aware of our allegiances to family and friends and make sure that our partner feels included and not excluded by these, so that we can invest as a couple in our broader network. If we are in a repartnered relationship or blended family, there can be more challenges in our relationship network and it is important to clarify roles and set clear boundaries and norms for behaviour.