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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

More by this author

David Klow

Marriage and Family Therapist and Author

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

How to Live a Stress Free Life in a Way Most People Don’t

How to Live a Stress Free Life in a Way Most People Don’t

Learning how to live a stress free life may seem impossible, but the truth is that there are specific things you can do to begin eliminating sources of stress.

No, it doesn’t look like a made-for-television movie. No, it doesn’t look like something only people with extra time and money can do. It looks like your life—but without any self-created stress triggers.

Here are 11 ways to help you live a stress-free life:

1. Stop Overanalyzing Situations That Haven’t Happened

The first step to living a stress-free life is to stop overanalyzing imaginary scenarios. It’s easy to spend time in the world of worst-case scenarios. People tend to cultivate this world for one of two reasons.

First, because if you know what the worst-case scenario is, then it won’t surprise you when it happens. Second, if you know what the worst-case scenario is, then you can do everything in your power to control the universe so the worst case never happens.

If that’s really the world you want to cultivate, then become a professional risk assessor. If not, then ask yourself how you are benefiting from continuing to live that way.

Does it make you feel better about yourself and your life? Does it make you want to leap out of bed in the morning, eager to embrace the worst-case scenario? Does it bring you joy or fulfillment?

If your answer to these three questions is no, then stop living in the future and bring yourself back into the present.

2. Don’t Take on Other People’s Problems

The whole advantage of other people having problems is that they aren’t your problems. When you frequently take on other people’s problems, you get into the habit of enabling.

Let’s get crystal clear about the definition of enabling: enabling is the art of continuing to take responsibility for other people, thereby disallowing their personal responsibility[1].

It is of no service to other people to take on their problems because they can’t/won’t/don’t know how to fix the problem.

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It is of service to empower others to take responsibility for themselves and their lives, to encourage, teach, and motivate others to address their own problems. So stop enabling, and start empowering.

3. Get Present in the Moment

Being present in the moment involves being in your body and feeling your feelings—two things that lots of folks actually don’t know how to do.

Ask yourself these two questions: What does fear feel like in your body? What are you afraid of?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you probably aren’t present in the moment. Being present involves vulnerability, humility, and openness[2].

How to live a stress free life by being present

    The past and the future stop being so relevant and intriguing when you’re able to get in your body and feel your feelings. When you can do these two things, you actually want to be in the present moment.

    To get started, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and watch your stress levels drop. Then, try these tips: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying.

    4. Focus on What You Have, Not What You Don’t

    The easiest way to stop focusing on what you don’t have is by not watching TV commercials. Marketing teaches us to focus on what we don’t have, and advertising campaigns spend millions of dollars convincing us that we must have what we don’t yet have.

    Can you think of a marketing campaign that teaches you to enjoy what you already have without buying something to enhance it? Odds are you can’t.

    In a world dictated by Super Bowl commercials and Facebook ads, it takes stalwart focus to recognize what you have more than what you don’t. If you want a stress-free life now, get stalwart, and stop letting other people dictate your focus.

    In order to do this, try cultivating a gratitude practice to help refocus your mind toward what is good in your life. You can get started with this guide.

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    5. Stop Surrounding Yourself With People Who Don’t Make You Happy

    Honestly, what kind of people do you really like to be around with? People who get you, who see you clearly, who accept your flaws and all; people you can be yourself with; people who have shared interests?

    How many of those people are in your life? What characteristics do all of the other people in your life have?

    If you find that the people in your life aren’t adding anything positive, it may be time to make some changes. If you find that other relationships you have are downright toxic, start working to cut out those relationships immediately.

    6. Find a Job That Makes You Feel Good

    You don’t have to stay at a job just because it pays the bills. Most people spend more time working than sleeping. The average person spends 40 to 80 hours a week—or 2,000 to 4,000 hours a year—working. That is a significant investment!

    If your best friend or child told you that they were going to spend 4,000 hours giving their emotional, mental, and physical energy to something (or someone) that wasn’t going to value them, give anything back to them, or pay them what they were worth, what advice would you offer? Give that same advice to yourself. You won’t be stress-free unless you don’t learn this[3].

    Here’re 11 Signs That You Should Leave Your Job.

    7. Only Take on What You Can Handle

    Busyness is an addiction. Slowing down can actually be terrifying because it causes you to notice that you have feelings that you now have time to feel.

    I get it.

    By the time I slowed down, I had decades of busyness under my belt. I went into a tailspin depression because I didn’t understand how to be in the right relationship with my own emotions.

    When I finally figured out that feelings are just feelings and allowing them to express themselves is healthy and natural, I stopped experiencing withdrawal from my addiction to busyness and started figuring out the pace of life that felt best for me.

    Remarkably, I discovered that I don’t actually like being busy. What will you discover about yourself?

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    8. Let Go of Grudges and Anger

    For me, it took 20 years of adulthood to figure out that holding on to grudges and anger only hurt me. Lucky for you, though, you can benefit vicariously from my experience just by reading one short paragraph!

    No one is holding your feet to the fire, demanding that you hold on to grudges and anger. The energy of anger slowly eats away at your body, mind, and spirit, until one day you wake up more resentful than optimistic.

    One day, people no longer want to be around you because the stink of negativity is oozing out of your pores. One day, you even get tired of hearing yourself get angry. And the person or people you are angry at or holding grudges against probably haven’t been affected at all.

    Who gets hurt the most in that process of repeating negative thoughts? You do.

    Some good advice for you here: How to Let Go of Resentment and Anger

    9. Stop Reliving Your Past

    To live a stress-free life, you have to stop reliving your past. I know it seems like fun to compare everything in your present to your past, and to experience the present through past-colored glasses, but it actually isn’t.

    When you wear past-colored glasses, you can’t truly experience the present for what it is. Your boyfriend or girlfriend gets compared to a list of expectations and failed relationships rather than recognized for the unique blessing they are in your life.

    Your boss gets compared to all the bosses who came before her/him. Your friends’ ability to parent gets compared to your parents’ ability to parent.

    People, including you, deserve to stand on their own past-free merit.

    10. Don’t Complain About Things You Can’t Change

    There are always going to be people elected into office whom you don’t like, taxes that you don’t want to pay, idiot drivers who refuse to move out of the left-hand lane, and a person ahead of you in the check-out line who won’t stop chatting with the clerk.

    The great benefit of being human is that we get to experience all of what life offers us. To live stress-free is to learn to deal with this fact.

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    Dwelling on your frustration with something that can’t be changed doesn’t do anything other than drag you down. You are the only person who will ultimately decide how to respond to what is.

    11. Stop Living Through Other People’s Lives

    Someone else’s life is not your life. Your life is your life.

    What that means is you get to live your life in the way you want. You get to make ridiculous mistakes, take leaps of faith, and stuff things inside your handbag of fear just as much as the next person.

    Going through stuff is the whole great messy adventure of being human! Being alive and living life is terrifying and glorious and everything in between.

    Stop living through social media, trying to soak in all of the experiences everyone else is having. Focus, instead, on what it feels like to be you in this moment. You may find you like it.

    Final Thoughts

    An astounding thing happens when you reduce stress and anxiety, get into a relationship with your body, mind, and spirit, and just be yourself without judgment.

    Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You begin to live in each moment, and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy.

    You move fluidly, steadily, calmly, and gratefully. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born through improved mental health. And this is how you live a stress-free life.

    More Tips on How to Live a Stress-Free Life

    Featured photo credit: Drew Coffman via unsplash.com

    Reference

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