- Research indicates that good relationships correlate with health, happiness, and longevity.
- Regular check-ups with a relationship therapist help keep couples healthy, happy, and well-functioning.
- Couples can review and share answers to scripted prompts about values, voice, vision, and vows to keep a relationship vibrant.
Once a year, on Valentine’s Day, do you and your partner exchange cards, savor dinner together, and end the day with chocolate, candles, and lovemaking? According to an online survey across 28 countries, 55 percent of couples celebrate February 14th by doing something special, as described above (Bogan, 2022).
Do our most significant relationships deserve more than one day of romance recognition?
If we want to be happy and healthy as we age, the answer is “yes!” According to the longest-running study on human development, good relationships are the strongest predictor of health, happiness, and longevity (Waldinger & Schultz, 2023). If this is true, nourishing and strengthening our core connections is preventative medicine.
So, how do we achieve and, most importantly, maintain “good” relationships?
I recommend regular, preventative relationship check-ups. Corporations, schools, and medical professionals have periodic evaluations, satisfaction surveys, mid-term academic reviews, and conferences, but rarely, if ever, do we schedule time for a “couples conference.”
If we go to the dentist and doctor for annual check-ups, why not a relationship check-up before problems surface? Regular dental cleanings prevent build-up and decay. Couples sessions, similarly, can prevent deterioration and strengthen bonds.
When I ask couples why they waited to seek out therapy, I hear the following reasons:
- False expectations (“We should be able to work things out if we love each other.”)
- Stigma (“We don’t tell anyone our problems” or “Does needing therapy mean we are doomed to divorce?”)
- Time (“We are too busy with work or kids to focus on us.”)
If couples can move past these false assumptions by making time for themselves and recognizing that all couples need support, they may be more likely to seek a marital therapist for a preventative check-up.
"Vitamin V": Eight Essential Ingredients for Vibrant Relationships
Here is my list of eight key ingredients, with scripted prompts, to help validate and enhance your vital relationships so they remain vibrant and healthy beyond February 14th. Like vitamins, consistency improves the cumulative effects. I suggest exploring all eight areas over a period of time–possibly one section per week. As partners, you can answer these questions separately and then come together to share your insights. I recommend meeting with a relationship therapist, even for a few sessions, if you struggle with any questions. These areas must be discussed in the spirit of collaboration–not during an altercation or disagreement. This checklist will help you understand where your relationship might need direction and guidance.
- Values. What are your values? What is most important to each of you? List your top three values independently and then come together to share your results. Where is the overlap? How can you support your loved one by understanding what they value most?
- Voice. How are you communicating? Do you need a skill refresher to help you feel heard? Do you use active and reflective listening? Do you feel comfortable with your conflict resolution skills? Do you practice open communication and collaboration around tough issues like finances, parenting, extended family, and sex?
- Vision. What do you want in life? What do you envision for the relationship? Individually, draw a picture or write about your dreams for the present and future. Share your visions. What do you want to work towards as a couple? Where do you see yourselves in a year? Five years?
- Vows. What can you promise? What are you willing to do to align your values and vision? Vows do not have to be a one-time marital exchange. Couples are wise to examine and exchange vows yearly, monthly, and even daily. For example, begin or end each day by looking into your partner’s eyes and declaring, “Today, I commit to you to…”.
- Vacation. When can you schedule time away as a couple? Time away together, even for an overnight, is essential to healthy relationships. Plan dates that give you both a break from kids, caretaking, and work. Shared adventures and opportunities to rest and reset help couples make memories and renew shared interests. You might call it your “honeymoon” date. I often ask couples, “Who said we only get one honeymoon during the course of a marriage?” Thriving couples make time to be alone together on a regular basis.
- Vulnerability. How honest and open are you willing to be about your needs, desires, hopes, and fears? How deeply have you explored your past? How does past imprinting or trauma continue to show up in your relationship when you are stressed or emotionally triggered? How well do you identify, experience, and express emotion?
- Vitality. What brings you joy? What makes you feel most alive as a couple? What hobbies do you want to start or continue together? How satisfying is your sex life? Do you laugh and share inside jokes? Are you interested in learning something new together? How can you increase your relationship vitality?
- Volunteer. How do you give back? How can you volunteer and serve others together? Studies indicate that volunteering and emotional well-being correlate positively (Lawton et al., 2020). I notice that couples who regularly practice serving others are likely to transcend minor frustrations and arguments more easily.
This year, why not schedule weekly couples conferences to reflect on, validate, and solidify these eight areas of relationship health? Make dates to dream up your life together. I’d like to see regular, preventative check-ups with a licensed relationship therapist become the norm. The goal is to become “better together,” thereby improving overall health and happiness–truly living “happily (and healthily) ever after.”
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Bogan, N., (February, 2022). Valentine’s Day around the world. Lpsos online survey.
Lawton et al. (2020). Does volunteering make us happier or are happier people more likely to volunteer? Journal of Happiness Studies, 22, 599-624.
Waldinger, R. & Schultz, M. (2023). The good life: Lessons from the world’s longest scientific study of happiness, New York: Simon and Schuster.