To learn about the tools for building healthy relationships, we caught up with marriage and family therapist, Yasmin Magdy. Here is her advice on how to create and maintain healthy, rewarding and emotionally supportive unions.
The Important Elements for Successful Relationships
The most important elements that sustain a healthy and a successful romantic relationship are respect, loyalty, love and compassion. Partners have to show respect to each other before they show love. A main pillar in any healthy relationship is showing respect for one another. A relationship that is free of put-downs and in which the partners feel accepted the way they are and secure, is one in which love will flourish and be nourished consistently. Communicating how you feel through actions of love rather than simply just saying, “I love you” is another very important way to a successful relationship that is built on security, and then love.
5 Ways to Speak and Understand Love
There are five ways to speak and understand emotional love, but many couples are not aware of them.
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Receiving gifts
- Acts of service
- Physical touch
We all grow up in different environments in which we adopt our sense of love expression from our parents. Some grow up expressing their love by using physical touch and words of affirmation while others may see that expressing love happens through driving you somewhere or getting an errand done for you to save you the hassle. Regardless of the way your partner is expressing their love, you might still feel emotionally distant or not loved enough. Why? You expect love in your way, which in return causes an emotional and physical disconnection between you.
Think about it now. We need to be calm and have an in-depth discussion about the way we both like to express and receive love. Being loved in the way you understand and appreciate is so important for a relationship.
Why Do Relationships Fail?
We must acknowledge that conflict in relationships to some extent is both normal and integral for deeper communication and bonding to take place. Yet, sometimes couples do not come out of a conflict with a deeper bond, but rather are broken and drift further apart, which leads to the relationship failing.
Unfortunately, emotional abuse, verbal abuse and physical abuse exist in many relationships. Disrespect and infidelity are other main reasons that set the stage for destroying the bond a couple has. They affect the sense of security and closeness the partners have and contribute to anger, resentment and holding grudges against each other.
Escalating Negativity: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, Stonewalling. Gottman calls these the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”. Gender differences include female criticism and male stonewalling. Exchange of reciprocal anger is found in both stable, happy marriages and unstable, unhappy marriages. The escalating negativity that leads to “turning away” from bids for emotional connection is the factor that leads to failed relationships.
Withdrawal and Emotional Disengagement. Here we are talking about the lack of the following: affection, humor, interest, support, engagement and empathy.
And finally Failed Repair Attempts. This entails unsuccessful attempts at repairing damage that has occurred in the relationship due to holding grudges and being resentful towards your partner.
What Happens When the “Honeymoon” Period Ends
There are some main pitfalls for newlyweds during the first months of marriage. Let’s face it, after the honeymoon ends reality sets in and we start facing each other’s real selves. A main pitfall here is in our expectations, which sets the stage for disappointment. We tend to find ourselves frustrated and disappointed if our partner does not turn out as expected by us. Many partners then fall into the biggest pitfall in a relationship, which is attempting to change who their partner is and thus start showing disappointment and frustration when they do not see the desired changes in their partners that coincide with their desired picture of them.
Accept each other and do not try to change your partner. We all are aware that conflicts start to happen early on in the relationship because simply put, both partners are still learning about each other in deeper ways. While this is happening, it is vital that communication includes respect and no put-downs.
Avoiding Toxic or Negative Interaction
This is a very common pitfall that many couples fall into once anger and resentment or put-downs seep into their conversations and conflicts. One of the main methods we teach couples in marital and couple’s therapy is to develop a code or decide on an understanding that once one of them becomes hurtful or loses their temper and is unable to communicate feelings accurately without being hurtful or disrespectful, taking some time apart is vital. This should never be done as a punishment for the other party, but should be done after consensus by both partners to cool off the anger. The discussion should be continued later when both are more relaxed and have a clearer perspective. Remember, communication is key.
The Importance of Intimacy
Intimacy, both emotional first, and physical second, is key in any relationship. It signifies the presence of a strong bond and nourishes partners’ feelings in the relationship. Effort must always be invested in connecting more deeply, whether emotionally or physically, for a happier and healthier relationship. Settling for a relationship in which you are physically or emotionally frustrated, neglected or unsatisfied contributes to the development of negative feelings and causes a drift between partners. Spice up your love life constantly, both physically and emotionally.
Being flexible in a relationship is key to a healthy life. Remember that you both come from different backgrounds and expecting life to happen based on your own point of view and background only is never fair to your partner since he/she comes from a different world than yours. Thus, the key to adapting and making allowances in a relationship is built on flexibility first and healthy communication second.
“Me time” is key to any relationship. Having a separate world of your own for each partner is essential to keeping a healthy relationship. Just as it is important to share hobbies and activities together, it is essential that each partner maintains a separate time with friends, have his/her own hobbies and interests. We highly recommend “me time” in therapy for couples to decrease the level of co-dependency in many cases, as well as to sustain the concept of “who am I” outside of the relationship. Many couples seem to be engulfed by their roles as a husband, wife, mother and a father in which the duties take them far from who he or she was before becoming part of a couple.
Forgiving & Forgetting: Is It Possible?
Forgiving and forgetting often go hand in hand in relationships, but there isn’t a typical time frame for forgiving, nor forgetting. An individual who has chosen to forgive most likely has accepted the reality of the situation and decided that his or her significant other was worth more than the pain of a fallout. Forgetting, on the other hand, doesn’t mean to disregard a behavior, response, or attitude that caused a problem in the beginning, it means that the individual will work past the complications and most importantly, never hold it against his or her partner in the future. Addressing things head on eliminates further complications by evening out the conversation and making sure that both partners’ priorities are addressed, rather than moping around giving the silent treatment and angry stares.
Feeling Stuck? It’s Time for Help!
When you find yourself stuck, and hit a road bump in the relationship that you cannot get past on your own, it is always recommended to seek therapy. At this point you need an outside perspective as well as learning some tools of communication.
For additional information or questions, contact Yasmin for an appointment
Senior Clinical Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist and Addiction Counselor
Building 4 / Unit 0-B
Tel: 02 38653700