The people we surround ourselves with influence everything in our lives, from how we feel when we wake up to the decisions we make. It’s a blessing when we find people who love and support us, even through tough times. However, building healthy relationships and working through difficulties doesn’t just happen because two people are compatible. They must work hard to build a healthy relationship through communication and commitment from both parties.
The good news is that everyone is capable of building healthy relationships together, even if it is tough work. Below, we’re sharing details on how you can build healthy relationships with your loved ones with the expertise of Peter Sandhill.
What Makes a Relationship Healthy?
The answer to this question will be different for everyone because every couple is unique. To assess whether your relationship is healthy, you must have a deep and honest conversation with your partner. According to Mr. Sandhill, a true partnership will stem from honesty and vulnerability as you truly get to know the core of another human and all the complexities of human life.
However, some foundational characteristics are proven to keep the partnership fulfilling and meaningful. The following five pillars will form a healthy relationship:
- Controversy with Civility
- Healthy Intimacy
- Outside Interests and Self-Improvement
- Evaluate the Relationship
This is not an exhaustive list but rather the foundation that the healthy relationship thrives on. Both people in the relationship need to be satisfied with each of these five pillars for fulfillment.
Below, we’re breaking down each of the five pillars that Sandhill writes about, so you can gain insight about your relationship.
While this might seem like a textbook answer, it is still as relevant today as it was in previous generations. The key behind falling in love and staying in love is communication.
When you first fall in love, you present your best self and tend to overlook flaws. As you continue to fall for your partner, you need to acknowledge those flaws and communicate through the now-broken rose-colored glasses.
Communication involves listening and being proactive when there are misunderstandings. Sandhill believes it’s important for each person to speak up and address their needs as a way to promote communication. For example, if you are feeling neglected by your partner, let them know it is time for a date night. If you recently worked through a conflict, reflect on it and how to prevent it in the future.
Sandhill also warns against the dangers of side-stepping communication with a partner when there are outside stressors from work, family, schedule changes, etc. Sandhill insists on not hiding anything and continuing personal conversations with a partner, even if the subject is uncomfortable. If you sideline your partner, the foundation of your relationship will start to crumble.
2. Controversy with Civility
You might read that and think, “What? How? Controversy is inherently uncivil.”
Well, controversy with civility just means tackling issues head-on without losing your cool. It is listening with an open heart and mind and respecting each other.
Maintaining civility during a fight means you maintain respect for your partner and their concerns. It may mean letting them walk away or observing non-verbal cues to know when they are approaching their limit. Sandhill encourages people to remember that Rome was not built in a day and not all issues can be resolved before bedtime. The more that you can be patient and stay civil during a controversy, the faster you will resolve and decrease tension.
3. Healthy Intimacy
Part of a healthy partnership is solid intimacy. Sex should bring you together and not be used as a tool to gain favor. Sandhill reminds us that intimacy also goes beyond sex and includes other forms of touch, like hugging, kissing, or holding hands, all of which can be just as impactful as sexual intercourse. This is because affectionate contact boosts oxytocin, the hormone that influences attachment and bonding.
4. Outside Interests and Self Improvement
If you do not love yourself, you will find it hard to love someone else. Take the time to develop your own identity and interests outside the relationship. According to Sandhill, this will help you develop independence and make the answer to ‘how was your day?’ all the more interesting.
5. Evaluate the Relationship
While the word ‘evaluate’ might sound clinical, it is important to check in during those ups and downs. Outside events, like job loss or health issues, can make or break even the strongest foundations. By evaluating the relationship during stressful times, you create opportunities to bridge gaps immediately rather than sort out misunderstandings later.
The Bottom Line
There is a reason the early stages of a partnership is called ‘the honeymoon phase.’ This is because it can’t last forever, and, according to Sandhill, it’s the least important part of any relationship. What matters is the work you put after the honeymoon phase.
Remember that you are in a partnership with another human being, filled with the same complex emotions and stressors. The way they approach life may be different, but it is no less valid.
A relationship is a team and continuing to move forward will be based on those healthy foundations. In the darkest times, reflect on early moments — good and bad — that defined who you both are today. Change is inevitable, and it is up to both of you if you want to embrace it or fight it. Either way, this adaptability and foundation will help you create and maintain a solid, strong partnership.