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Sunday, 04 Nov 2018

How to Build a Healthy Relationship

By Dr Becky Spelman

healthy relationshipWhat is the key, people ask? How do you do it? How do you build a healthy relationship? It’s a question that has mystified many, and unfortunately, one that many more don’t bother to ask at all. The answer, as you’d expect, is multi-layered. It involves not only bringing awareness to our current habit patterns, but also replacing those negative ones with skills that affirm as opposed to disrupt our relations.

Much as it always does, becoming aware of our own ‘flaws’ demands looking at the biggest influencers in our life; our parents. It’s generally the case that if we were subjected to a dysfunctional upbringing, we’ll subconsciously play out those patterns in our own future relationships. Likewise, if we were exposed to adults working out their differences constructively, we’re more likely to follow the example of respect and of finding the middle ground.

That’s the end result, and what we’re all striving for, but how do you get to that place of unconditional love and respect you find in a healthy relationship?

Listening with Intention

Listening truly is one of the most under-valued skills we have at our disposal. This might sound like a wild claim, given how much we engage with our sense of hearing each day, but listening is more than just hearing. It involves being present with the person who is speaking, and taking an active interest in what they’re saying. You listen with conscious intent.

When you take this approach, you set the ego aside. You are no longer listening to respond, but to understand. And of course, some response is necessary; it facilitates further exchanges, but it shouldn’t be your primary motivator. Deep and authentic listening comes from being heart-based, and is an extension of empathy. We engage in this way to know our partners better, so we might use those conversations as points of reference for acts of thoughtfulness and service.

Through holding space in such a non-judgmental fashion, you provide a safe environment for expression, which encourages your partner to do the same in return. This sends a clear message that you care about them on a deeper level. By showing you’re invested in their challenges, it creates a bond founded in your shared humanity, and the desire to foster each other’s growth.

Communicating Effectively and Authentically

Language is fickle. There is so much room for misinterpretation, with the need to qualify our statements creating a minefield out of the most trivial matters. Without realising, you can find yourself saying something inflammatory, causing damage that can be extremely hard to undo; and that’s to mention nothing of what can be said in the heat of the moment…

Communication breakdowns occur most often when trying to resolves issues. The patterns of shame, blame and guilt, particularly blame, being responsible for a large share of them. Of course, being challenged is expected, none of us are completely infallible; it is how we effect growth and mature. But when raising fault, it’s important to come from a place of neutrality, making use of ‘non-violent communication’ methods, or non-accusational language.

If you find bringing up issues with your partner is continually leading to escalation and repetitive arguments, a few verbal tweaks will change the tone of your message. For example, if you’ve been hurt, rather than saying ‘you made me feel bad,’ instead, you could say, ‘when we were speaking, hearing those words brought up these [insert feelings/issues] for me.’ Notice in the second sentence, there is no ‘you,’ but ‘we.’ It’s much more inclusive and encourages resolve, as opposed defensiveness.

Meeting Each Other’s Needs

Subconsciously, relationships are formed with the belief on both sides that each will help the other meet some kind of need. Understanding this, and also what these are, has a significant bearing on the dynamic you enjoy as a couple. In his book, ‘The Five Love Languages,’ Dr Gary Chapman expands on the five ways we use to relate to one another. These are: words of affirmation (compliments), acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch.

By knowing which of these your partner appreciates most, and thus has a ‘need’ for, it allows you to meet them where they’re at, instead of using gestures that don’t resonate. If you’ve ever bought your partner unexpected gifts and they’ve given you a flat response, it might not be they’re ungrateful, but they simply don’t respond well to gifts. It could be they have a need for quality time, and this is their love language.

The meeting of each other’s needs is essentially a way of sharing your lives with one another. It is the relationship in full motion. But it’s important to be mindful that as human beings, we have dynamic personalities; we shift, grow and evolve constantly, so what is true one day, could be irrelevant the next. Pay attention to the signs your partner is giving you. Make a commitment to always be present when they’re speaking and follow-up with questions. If you strive to come from a place of sincerity, you’ll find yourself having to ‘figure out’ less as time goes on, as true empathy invariably inspires honesty.


If you’re currently experiencing difficulty in your own relationships, whether it be romantic or with a close family member, one of our specialists would be happy to provide you with an initial consultation to determine the best way to assist you.

You also may want to read further about relationship issues or more about action you could take, such as couples therapy.

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