What Makes Relationships Work?

Each year when Valentines Day approaches, there’s a collective pause as we all look at our own relationships. It could be a fleeting thought or it might raise a discussion with our partner, but psychologists agree that Valentines Day makes almost everyone feel something.

If you are in a relationship, it invariably calls for some sort of assessment, a check-in, if you will, of the state of your union. It really doesn’t matter if you buy into the flowers, chocolates, and expensive dinner or if you settle in for another night of Netflix binging. What matters is how you feel about your relationship.

If you’re having trouble, doubts, or just annoyances and are wondering how you can make your relationship go the distance, psychologists, family therapists, and pastors across the nation share some helpful components for a healthy partnership.

  1. Conflict Resolution. Most people don’t list this as number one, but if you think about it, it’s HUGE! If you are in a new relationship and thinking long-term, ask yourself how your partner treats a disagreement. Does he walk away? Give you the silent treatment? Withhold love and affection? Punish you in passive aggressive ways? Yell and scream? Insist on being right? These are all common and unhealthy ways to resolve conflict, and many, many people are guilty of them, including, maybe, you. If this is the case, it is not the end of the world, but it is definitely something that needs work. You must identify your partner’s conflict resolution style and ask yourself if it is something you can live with the rest of your life. If not, it’s time to start discussing your concerns and working toward a healthier strategy that works for both of you.
  2. Respect. This word is flung around a lot, but have you ever really thought about what respect looks like in the real world? Here’s what it’s not: name calling, threats, teasing that crosses the line to cruelty, talking in a condescending or demeaning way to one another, and generally not valuing your partner and his contributions to the relationship. A nagging wife really doesn’t respect her husband. If she did, she would trust him to follow through. A husband who makes his wife feel lesser-than within the family unit really doesn’t respect her. If he did, he would love and honor her. We take vows that follow the Biblical principles, but do we ensure that we are carrying them out in our day-to-day lives? Respect is inherent in the little things we do because we love and value our spouse.
  3. Fun. Do you know how many relationships end because there is just no joy left in the partnership? It is so easy to slip into what’s easy. To stop making the effort. To become routine and boring. The beauty of a solid relationship is that you can be comfortable being slugs together. But you also have to have fun together. Laughter is essential. Joyous moments are what keep love sparkling. It’s important to share a hobby or interest. You and your partner can be as different as Sonny and Cher but still share the same foundational beliefs, the same passion for travel, or the same parenting style. Those likenesses will hold you together when your differences threaten to separate you. That’s why it’s so important to foster and nurture them, to keep them alive through hardships, through children, through deaths and job losses. Fun doesn’t have to be expensive but it is absolutely priceless when it comes to having a happy life.
  4. Love and affection. As one longtime wife said, it’s hard to stay mad at someone when they are holding you in their arms. You know the feeling. You’ve just had a fight, the steam is coming out of both of your ears, you’ve said your piece, and you’re in a standoff. Then one of you reaches out and takes the other’s hand. Or envelopes you in a hug. Or plants a gentle kiss. That touch is magical and reminds us that the relationship is bigger than this disagreement. It’s easy to allow love and affection to fade away, but that is a big mistake. We all need it and when our partner stops touching us or making meaningful eye contact, we begin to feel unloved. We lose our connection. The physical connection is a gift from God for a reason. We need it to maintain the intimate relationship we have with our partner, the bond that is different from the one we have with others. The human touch is healing and reassuring. It is one of the greatest tools we have in our relationship toolbox.

No matter your feelings on Valentines Day (especially if you think it’s just another Hallmark holiday), use this date to remind yourself to do a relationship check-in. Ask yourself if you are practicing healthy relationship strategies that keep a union strong. And remember perhaps the greatest relationship wisdom of all. While you can’t control others, you can control yourself and your own actions. Act in a way that honors both God and your significant other.

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Dr. Rebecca Deurlein
Dr. Rebecca Deurlein

Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed, and President of Teenager Success 101, a one-on-one academic coaching company dedicated to helping kids find success. She blogs and writes internationally, speaks to parents across the nation, and loves every minute of living in Sugar Land, TX. Find her on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, or through her own blog A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers. All can be accessed at www.TeenagerSuccess101.com.