Relationship Basics 101

Couples often lose track of the most basic elements of a healthy relationship

Posted Apr 23, 2013

Did you just flip off your wife and then justify your behavior?  Or scream at your husband in frustration (and then refuse to apologize)?  Do you often find yourself justifying behaviors towards your spouse that you would be embarrassed to use with your friends?

In their actions, at least, struggling couples often lose track of the very basics of what makes a good relationship.  As you focus on all that your partner is doing wrong, your own behavior also deteriorates.  If you are angry at your partner, for example, you might “excuse” your own rude behavior or even verbal or physical abuse (“She just made me so mad!”)  The reality is, there are some basic, bottom-line behaviors that are simply “must haves” in good relationships.  The basics of strong relationships are not “relative” to what your partner is doing, but “absolute.”  Either you are behaving in a way that makes you a good partner or you are not.  You – and only you – are responsible for making sure you are the best person you can be.

Here are my top five relationship basics.  See if you’ve “passed” Relationship 101!

Respect:  Treat your partner with respect.  ALWAYS. That includes even when you are furious with her.  There is a respectful way to say everything, as well as a respectful time to say it.

Repair:  You are both human.  Your partner will make mistakes and so will you.  Repairing your relationship after those mistakes is critical to its health.  Actively seek ways to repair hurts with your partner, such as aplogizing, or listening to your parnter's concerns.  Always be willing to accept repair behaviors from your partner.  Accepting your partner’s apology isn’t the same way as condoning what he did.  It simply says “I care about you enough to work through this.”

Hold:  Almost all relationships need some sort of touch and intimacy to thrive.   It’s likely yours could benefit from more.  Don’t “hold out” on a partner, even if you’re mad.  Be willing to hold hands or touch your partner even if you aren’t willing to have intercourse at the moment.  And if you are having trouble with agreeing about the course of your sex life (for example, whether or not there should be any sex) seek professional help.

Be honest and accepting.  Own your own issues, problems and mistakes.  Be upfront about your feelings.  Find respectful ways to air all of this (I am not an advocate of “honesty at all costs”!  Don’t cause your partner unnecessary pain by “just being honest” when you are also angry!)  Don’t cover up due to embarrassment.  Be honest with your partner and openly accept that your partner has the right to his opinion, even if you don’t like it much.  This acceptance - that your partner has a right to his or her opinions - and the willingness to talk and negotiate rather than argue or dictate, is what makes a relationship “safe.”

Appreciate.  Take every opportunity to appreciate your partner and the positives in your life.  Research suggests finding positives in your life every day can measurably improve it.  Too often disgruntled partners feel that if they praise or even encourage their partner it is the same thing as saying “everything is okay with us.”  Not so!  Appreciation and validation should be liberally applied to your relationship, even if it’s troubled.  You’ll have plenty of time to also (respectfully) air your complaints.