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Signs You’re in a Healthy Intimate Relationship (and What to Do if Not)

Signs You’re in a Healthy Intimate Relationship (and What to Do if Not)

Now more than ever, we are looking for it all from our partners. We want them to be our friend, lover, companion, confidant, co-parent and partner in crime. Gone are the days when we coupled up in order to procreate or get a dowry. Today’s healthy relationship is about amplifying what might be possible in our lives.

In order to determine if you are in a healthy relationship, it is important to gauge that by today’s standards, not by the metrics of old relationship benchmarks. Here are 5 ways to know if you are in a healthy intimate relationship, and what to do if you’re not.

1. You fight well

The old way to measure a healthy relationship is that you don’t fight. A couple who got along and were five times more affectionate than they were combative were seen as having something healthy. Yet in today’s healthy relationship, what is important is that you know how to work through conflicts in order to achieve greater harmony.

Just like a muscle that gets stronger once it tears and repairs after working out, so does a relationship get more powerful when the couple works through a disagreement.

Many couples don’t have an effective repair mechanism after they fight. A lot of them sweep their issues under the rug. Yet you will know that you’re in something healthy when you can fully resolve the conflict and find new solutions to your disagreements.

What to do if not?

If you are in a relationship in which you sweep problems under the rug, then it can be helpful to work with your partner to find new ways of making up after a fight.

Talk to each other about what you saw in your families growing up. How were fights and make ups handled there? What would you each want in order to resolve arguments such that your relationship could grow stronger from them?

2. Your sex is relaxing

Modern couples have so much going on in their lives that they don’t need sex to be another task; instead it needs to be something that nourishes and relaxes them.

Couples often rate the health of their sex life by measuring how passionate it is. They assume that they need wild, hot sex in order to demonstrate that their love life is where it should be. Yet you don’t need to be swinging from the rafters, or having kinky sex in dangerous locations in order to prove that your relationship is strong.

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While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have intensity and intimacy in your love life, what most couples report to me in couples counseling is that they benefit from having a sex life that is relaxing and affirming. Rather than there needing to be pressure to have sex be something that defines how wildly or deeply you love each other.

A healthy sex life these days is one that causes both people to be more relaxed, open and connected.

Couples are often concerned about how often they have sex and want to know what a normal frequency is for married couples. Recent research shows that married couples who have sex once a week are happiest.[1]

The key was to maintain a sense of connection and intimacy, yet having sex more than once a week didn’t make couples any happier. For modern healthy relationships, you don’t need to have sex every night but instead make sex something that is loving and connected.

What to do if not?

If sex in your relationship is not relaxing, then it can be helpful to talk with one another about what would help make it so.

Rather than allowing the chatter in your mind to govern how you experience sex, try to turn the dialogue into something that will bring more honesty and connection into the bedroom.

3. That little voice inside your head is quiet

People used to judge their relationships based on if you have outward similar values or enjoy doing the same activities together. Today’s healthy relationships are ones in which each person has an experience inside themselves of knowing that they are with the right person. It is an inner felt sense that you’re where you are supposed to be.

People want to feel certain about their relationships. While nothing is a guarantee when it comes to love, there is something healthy when that little voice inside your head is not questioning every little thing that happens.

I hear from clients all the time who are trying to interpret their partner’s behavior, or who are constantly worrying where the relationship is going. They keep evaluating what sort of future they might have with the other person, which causes them excess psychic stress.

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A modern healthy relationship is one in which that little voice in your head is quiet. The chatter starts to go away and confidence in the solidity of the relationship emerges.

What to do if not?

If that inner chatter is there and you are worrying if you’re with the right person, or if the relationship is heading in the right direction, then it can be very helpful to get those thoughts out of your head and make them speakable.

Perhaps start with a trusted friend or well trained counselor to talk through and make sense of what you want from the relationship. It can sometimes be healing to hear your thoughts spoken out loud, rather than rattling around in your head.

Then, when the timing feels right, you could try talking with your partner and share your thoughts such that you can feel more confident in what you have together.

4. It’s easy to cry

Another old way of defining a healthy relationship is one in which the couple communicates well. However, with modern couples the better way to define health is that it is easy to be emotional with one another. Can you cry, laugh, scream, sulk and worry openly with each other?

Most people think that they need to have healthy communication with their partner to make the relationships work. The word “communication” is really an umbrella term to describe something much more complicated.

Most couples know how to do the mechanics of talking and hearing each other. The problem is really not how to communicate but how to manage emotions when we relate.

When the part of the brain that manages emotions (the Amygdala) gets activated, it shuts off access to the part of the brain that manages communication (the prefrontal cortex).

In relationships, people often describe becoming overwhelmed with emotion and then shut down their ability to connect and communicate. They describe becoming emotionally flooded or triggered. When this happens, couples tend to go into more of a fight-flight mode. They struggle with openly emoting and relating at the same time.

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If you are in a relationship where you have access to one another’s internal lives and you share your emotions freely, then you are in good shape.

If your relationship is one in which you hold in emotions, then you might need to work to develop your emotional intelligence.

If you and your partner either shut down or have big blow ups when there are strong feelings involved, then you might need to do some deeper work to be more connected .

What to do if not?

The three steps involved in this sort of connection are being in touch with your feelings, naming them and then communicating them. The feelings exist in the body, so you would need to be in touch with your body to feel what is there. Then give a name to what that feeling is.

Once you have named it then you can tell your partner. For example, you feel unsettled in your belly. You might name that as anxiety. Then you could tell your partner, “I’m feeling anxious about my presentation this afternoon.”

Being able to put your thoughts and feelings into words can go a long way towards healthy relating.

5. You become more accountable

Most of us rate our relationships on how they make us feel. The old way of judging if you have a healthy relationship is to gauge if you feel better about yourself. But just because we might feel good doesn’t mean the relationship is healthy. Our partner might be co-dependent or there might be power dynamics in play that we don’t quite realize.

A new way to judge if you have a healthy relationship is to notice if you are more comfortable acknowledging your faults and taking accountability for your limitations. When it’s safe in a relationship to say “I’m wrong” or “I’m sorry,” then you know that the relationship is in good shape.

A lot of people focus on blaming the other person for the problems in their relationship. When there is no blame game, it opens the interaction up to something more creative. You may actually feel better about yourself when you admit and accept your weaknesses but still know that you are deeply loved and accepted.

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Saying to your partner, “I don’t always get it right,” and knowing that’s OK can go a long way towards being comfortable taking accountability for your side of the relationship struggles.

What to do if not?

If you find yourself not comfortable taking accountability, you might want to see what happens when you try dropping your defenses just a bit.

Try acknowledging a shortcoming and test the waters to see what happens when you admit faults. Knowing that you can step out of the blame game can be a relief.

If you’re stuck in it, then couples counseling can always help with creating a more safe space in the relationship to take a closer look at what’s going on.

Remember, this is not your grandmother’s marriage. It’s not your mother’s or father’s relationship either. In fact, having a healthy intimate relationship in this day and age is nothing like we’ve ever seen before.

Take my advice, be honest with yourself and your partner and work together to make your relationship stronger.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1] Society for Personality and Social Psychology: Couples Who Have Sex Weekly Are Happiest

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David Klow

Marriage and Family Therapist and Author

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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