I’m certain you would all acknowledge that it is important that your romantic relationship is “healthy”, but what does that mean in terms of behaviours or goals within your partnership? Our checklist acronym, RELATIONSHIP, details essential features of strong, robust, and beneficial relationships
R is for respect. Respect, as a term, if sometimes thrown around between couples inside couple’s counselling. “He doesn’t respect me”. What people often mean by this are various alternatives including, “He doesn’t do what I ask”, “He doesn’t recognise my contribution to our family”, or even “He doesn’t not behave in a way that makes me feel safe”. It is often helpful to define exactly what behaviours your find respectful, or disrespectful to help you understand your personal defination of respect.
I value a definition of respect where individuals show consdieration for their partner, that they hold them in high esteem, and do not wish to dominate them.
Ask yourself does your partner’s actions demonstrate that you are important in their lives? Does your partner hold you in positive esteem. Do you treat your partner as your equal? If yes, then you probably have respect.
E is for Emotional Regulation. Emotional regulation refers to one’s ability to contril and take responsibility for their personal emotions. In therapy we see people use both anger and tears in an unregulated manner. Being emotionally regulated doesn’t mean that you constantly control your emtional outbursts, but if you loose your cool you tale responsibility for this. Do you blame your partner for your emotional responses? Are you frequently angry and using your anger as a method to control your partner (or anyone else for that matter). Do you use tears and say you are upset as a means to not take responsibility for your behaviour? If you feel out of control emotionally you may personally benefit from 1-2-1 therapy. You may really benefit, and your relationship will most likely improve as well. For more information you may enjoy this article – (https://reddoor.hk/2019/03/13/learn-to-better-control-your-emotions/).
L is for Limitations. Limitations represent the ground rules in a relationship. The ground rules in your relationship are to be explicit, agreed by both parties, and respectful to the individuals in the relationship. Most obviously, if you believe you are committed to a monogamous relationship, external affairs are a break of the rules of your commitment. If you are a mutually agreed sexually open relationship the same behaviour is not a break of the rules. In practice the problem is not usually the rules themselves, rather the problem is that the rules are not agreed or explicit, so that a gap in expectations exists. It often benefits a relationship to talk about values, expectations and understood rules. Misunderstanding of expectations can lead to continual conflict, which could, possibly be avoided.
A is for Acceptance. Feeling accepted by your partner is equivalent to possessing a superpower. Conversely feeling unaccepted and unwanted is like kryptonite. Going to work everyday where you may be expected to push yourself to the limit, to return in the evening to your partner who says, explicitly or through their behaviour, that you are not good enough, is soul crushing. The power of a couple is celebrated when two people are on each others’ side and aligned.
T is for Transparency. Transparency in relationship is an essential element of Trust, another important T word. Whilst we are entitled some individual privacy, between couples, especially those who are committed to long term relationships, the following details should be understood: financial liabilities and assets, travel arrangements, and friends. If you wish to withhold this information from your partner ask yourself why. Do you not trust your partner with this information? Do you want to withhold information for a particular reason? Do the answers to these questions affect the future of your relationship? Both parties need to be transparent.
I is for Intimacy. Intimacy, including sexual intercourse, kissing, hugging, touching is important. Whilst sexual libido can change over a relationship, maintaining physical closeness can be very important to the maintenance of a relationship. Physical touch is one of the key languages of love according to relationship specialist Dr Gary Chapman (https://www.5lovelanguages.com/). What is see in therapy is that as relationships mature, touch can become compartmentalised into sex vs touch, and “setting the mood” becomes a lost art or practice. A bit of romance remains essential
O represents Open Communication. Similar to transparency, communication needs to be a priority. Communication keeps you connected. Do you talk with your partner regularly? Do you know what your partners favourite items are? How well would you do on a game show such as the Newlywed Game, where partners score points for the breadth of knowledge about their partner that can demonstrate? And how would you measure up in terms of depth of understanding? Do you know your partner’s life goals, about his/her family of origin, or biggest fears. Communicate openly and share.
Also communicate regularly – I have encountered couples who exchange less than 10 words in an evening. I’ve met couples who are essentially incommunicado when one of them is travelling on business, even if these trips are more than a week long. These couples are struggling and the individuals within those relationships, predictably, feel disconnected.
Be with someone who wants to know how your day was. If you have been fighting and want to start communication again find open topics that help you talk, but not about the topic of the argument. For example, talk about your favourite board game, topic at high school, or favourite type of food. Once the door to communication is open perhaps you can tackle difficult topics again. In therapy, couples often save sensitive topics to discuss for their session time, where the goals of the relationship are the priority, and the therapist can help mediate the divide.
N is for Nurturing. Essentially your relationship should rise you up rather than cut you down. We partner with another person in a campaign to make our lives better. Having a partner who is part cheerleader, part life coach, will encourage you to be the best you can be. And this needs to be a two way street – both parties need to be nurtured, not only the “breadwinner”. If you enter your relationship understanding that you will develop and change, then you can grow together, rather than disconnect.
S is for Safety. Nobody’s personal or emotional safety should be compromised in a romantic relationship. Sometimes abuse does not cause pain, or leave bruises, but still victimises one of the individuals in a relationship. Physical abuse includes not only scratching, kicking, punching, hitting and biting but also pulling or pushing you, forcing you to have sex, forcibly holding your face or putting you in a headlock, and physically preventing you from leaving a room. Emotional abuse is more difficult to identify. Emotional abuse refers to attempts to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as their weapon of choice.
Its worth talking about what emotional abuse is not. For example it is not emotionally abusive to break up with a partner, or argue with your partner. It is not emotionally abusive when someone reacts to what you have done by stating that they are hurt. It is also not emotional abuse to speak one’s mind with honesty, perhaps more tact could be used, but it isn’t necessarily abuse. Partners, fight, and often even yell. This also doesn’t constitute abuse, unless it is done for the purpose of controlling another person. Researchers Jacobson and Gottman have a questionnaire that can help you determine if you are being emotionally abused. (http://www.fjcsafe.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Emotional-Abuse-Questionnaire.pdf)
H stands for Happy Times. Often when I meet with couples who are disconnected from each other, one solution to their situation seems obvious – reconnect. At the beginning of a relationship we make time to be with our significant other. After years of dating many other actions take priority over time with time together. There is always tomorrow to spend time together. If you think about your relationship as an investment, you need to bank moments of connection to ensure positive returns in the future. Spend time together! In particular, if you have children, spend time together NOT talking about your kids. Develop hobbies , commit to chatting, and build a life together.
I stands for Individual Celebration. Your relationship could encourage you to achieve your goals, your dreams, and face your fears. Your personal achievements are, partially, your relationship’s achievement. This is particularly true if your partner has given up work to support your career advancement. Share your success. And ensure that the relationship is built around acknowledging each others strengths.
P stands for Partnership Celebration. Celebrate milestones, celebrate a team effort, celebrate getting through tough times together. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you achieve a particular milestone make sure that it matters, there are couples who have been together 10 years who avoid each other in their spare time, or live largely separate lives. That is not a situation to celebrate. Your partner can be your teammate. Does it feel like you are a teammates or two completely separate individuals within your relationship?
The final S – stands for Shared Responsibility. In couple’s counselling words such as ‘accountability’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘reliability’ are frequently mentioned. The members of a couple can hold themselves responsible to deliver the needs of the relationship. If you aren’t being transparent, independent, or trustworthy inside your relationship both yourself and your spouse can call this out. You are both responsible to maintain and enrich your relationship. Both parties need to engage. It is very difficult to build a long term satisfying relationship if only one partner invests in its care.
How does your relationship measure up to these guidelines? Give yourself a performance score: Give yourself 1 point for each of the features that you feel confident are practiced inside your relationship. The maximum score would be 13.
If you can not tick the box for safety no other items matters. You must protect your safety. Seek out professional help.
If you score more than 10, congratulations, your relationship checks the boxes!
If you score between 7-9 you might consider to refresh and update your relationship. Consider how you could reconnect. You might find the following article helpful. https://reddoor.hk/2019/02/14/make-your-relationship-better/
If your relationship scores 6 or below it might be time to consider seeking help with your relationship to help improve your commitment. This article may also help. https://reddoor.hk/2019/03/25/warning-signs-when-to-consider-couples-counselling/
Here is one final tip from a professional helping couples recommit: Remember good relationships don’t last simply because of an abundance of good times, rather they thrive from kindness and commitment shared during times that are tough.