By Marie Choppin, MSW, LICSW, LSCW-C
Over the past 8 years, I have worked with hundreds of couples who are struggling with their relationship in various ways and have found that these 5 ways to build a strong, loving relationship are essential. The couples I work with all experience underlying concerns about not having their needs met, fears of losing their partner and/or longings for a deeper connection. Many have experienced a competing attachment (such as infidelity, alcoholism, work or even too much focus on the children) which interfered with their connection and trust with one another.
Whether a couple has been together a few years or many decades, their struggle to stay connected and feel emotionally safe with one another is most often their primary underlying reason for the distress in their relationship. With so much research now that validates that humans are wired to connect, it's even more important to find ways to PREVENT the disconnection in your relationship. Having a loving, strong bond is good for your health, as well, and there is proof that life expectancy is longer for those in a healthy relationships. So here are 5 ways to build a strong, loving relationship so that you can continue to thrive in love.
Connection is the key to feeling strong as a couple.Our society was built on the values of independence and self reliance. However, in relationships, being able to depend on one another is necessary and appropriate. Don't be afraid to let your partner know what you need. No one is a mind-reader, despite our wishes to the contrary! If you can share your worries, feelings of being let down, and need to be close and intimate, your partner will not have to guess what you need. Of course, don't forget to allow time for your partner to also share their needs.
2. Let your partner know when you are hurt.
In relationships that matter the most to us, we can often feel more hurt or disappointed when something happens that causes pain. At the same time, we often don't want to hurt the feelings of someone we love by letting them know that we are hurt. However, when you remain quiet, your partner does not know when they have said or done something that hurts you. Sharing the hurt, in a loving manner, without anger, defensiveness, or shutting down, will go a long way to opening communication and understanding. The experience of sharing your deepest feelings and being heard can actually build a deeper sense of trust. You can set the groundwork for a good conversation by letting your partner know you want to share something. Being open to hearing their perspective will be vital to open-hearted sharing.
3. Openly share when you feel disconnected.
Many couples have such busy lives, especially if there are children to raise. With work and parenting responsibilities, there is a high likelihood that disconnection happens. There is often not enough time to share feelings and check in with one another. However, by not sharing, a gulf can develop. Sometimes both partners feel it but are afraid to bring up. Other times one person may feel it and the other is unaware. Either way, as soon as you are aware of disconnection, raising it with your partner will prevent loneliness and isolation from happening and can go along way to building a strong, loving relationship. Sharing opens up communication and connection which helps you both feel less alone and eases the burden. Here's a well-known video by Brene' Brown that highlights the ways that being with your partner, even in painful moments, makes the experience less lonely and develops empathy.
4. Stay Open and Calm When Discussing Issues.
There is a lot of new neuroscience research about the effect of facial, non-verbal cues, voice levels and body-language on partners. Stephen Porges has found that there is an instinctive response to anger that our ears react to which puts people into a "fight or flight" response. This means that when a person hears someone who is angry with them (or even near by), the person really can't think clearly but rather goes into a place of defense (fight or flight) to prepare for an attack. Even with our loved ones, if someone is raising their voice in anger, the other person can't really hear or take in what is being said. So it's even more important to wait until you and your partner are both calm, then share your feelings from a softer, more vulnerable place so that your partner can hear you.
5. Carve out time every week (or daily) to check in with your partner about how the relationship feels.
Making your relationship number one on your list of priorities. Most often, partners put the relationship behind kids and work. However, not putting your relationship first is damaging in the long run. Making sure to check in with your partner on a daily basis, is so helpful in keeping the relationship strong.
There are no guarantees when it comes to relationships but practicing these 5 Ways To Build A Strong, Loving Relationship will go a long way!
Marie Choppin, LSCW-C, LICSW is the Founder and Director of Lotus Point Wellness, a counseling and wellness practice bringing together counseling, nutrition and yoga for a holistic, integrative approach to wellbeing. She has offices in Silver Spring and Bethesda, MD and has been an Emotionally Focused (EFT) couple, family and individual therapist for over 20 years. You can find more information about Marie and her team of therapists, nutritionists and Yoga teachers at Lotus Point Wellness by going to www.lotuspointwellness.com.