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Maintaining a Relationship

Strong relationships require different types of nurturing—physical, emotional, and attentional. Certain traits have been shown to be especially important for maintaining healthy connections. For example, each individual should, for starters, feel confident that their partner is willing to devote time and attention to them. And they must both be committed to addressing and accommodating the differences and challenges that will inevitably emerge.

The Benefits of Togetherness

In the most successful relationships, partners not only afford each other the benefit of the doubt; they take active supportive steps that foster a powerful sense of being on the same team. Maintained over the long term, research shows, that connection provides individuals a solid emotional base for pursuing their dreams and for bouncing back quickly when they encounter setbacks.

How does being in a relationship benefit me?

In healthy relationships, our partners see us more positively than anyone else in our lives does—perhaps more positively than we view ourselves—and we can use their belief in us to get closer to our ideal self. This is known as “the Michelangelo phenomenon,” because just as the great sculptor could look at a slab of stone and see an ideal hidden human form, our partner’s positive messages and signals of support can help us flourish.

Can a relationship make me a better person?

Being in a healthy relationship should lead to personal growth, or “eudaimonia,” the tendency to strive to be the best that you can be. With the committed support of a partner, research shows, people bounce back better from stress or trauma, are more appreciative of life, and more open to new things.

Achieving Intimacy

Although the term is often used as a euphemism for sex, the sharing between two people that defines intimacy is not exclusively a physical connection and is not exclusive to romantic relationships. Intimacy involves the risk of putting yourself out there. It tends to begin cautiously in conversation—sharing something emotionally meaningful with a new partner—but evolves over time into a connection with someone we believe truly gets us. Once a bond of intimacy is established, it can become the bedrock of both deep friendship and physical desire.

What’s the key to intimacy in a relationship?

Feeling emotionally safe, which involves being both relaxed and open, may be an essential ingredient of true intimacy. When one partner gives in to criticism or contempt, and attacks the other, they can erode intimacy by triggering the other’s self-defense mechanisms and chipping away at their trust. This is one reason why research suggests that couples require many more positive than negative interactions with each other to maintain relationship health.

What does every partner owe each other?

Maintaining a relationship requires some baseline measures of respect, which research suggests include a partner’s attention, affection, honesty, and gratitude, as well as a willingness to address conflict and an openness to sharing the household workload. The prolonged absence of these measures can jeopardize a relationship’s future, and so experts urge partners to address them when they become a concern.

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