Having a healthy relationship takes the work of two, and even when both are working on it, it might be difficult to know where to start. We asked some people that are in healthy happy relationships and experts in psychology to give us some feedback on how to have the healthiest relationship possible.
Amanda Blaisdell is a mathematics instructor at Oregon State University, and she has been happily married for two and a half years. Blaisdell said she and her husband took the five love languages quiz early on in their relationship.
“We're both aware of each other's love languages and try to show our affection in those ways. Overall, I think these can be a positive tool for relationships (both romantic and non-romantic),” Blaisdell said via email.
The five love language quiz is a quiz based upon Dr. Gary Chapman’s book series where he talks about his theory that people have five different ways in which they express and experience love. These five love languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch.
Chapman is a marriage counselor and director of marriage seminars. His book has sold over twelve million copies and has been on the New York Times best-sellers list since 2007. The five languages series has a website where people can take a quiz to learn which are their top love languages. Click here to access the website with the five love languages quiz.
Kristen Yax, an instructor of psychology at OSU, said that she does not know of any empirical scientific evidence behind the five love languages, but the book series can help couples.
“I have read The 5 Love Languages and feel there is a lot of practical information that couples can use to identify their needs in a relationship. While I am not aware of the empirical science behind these five love languages, I believe this book can inspire couples to open up in a fun, playful manner by completing the questionnaire and learning about their love styles,” Dr. Yax said via email. ”Any tool that opens up a dialogue for couples to learn more about their priorities and needs, and allows them to learn more about one another, is a win in my book.”
Blaisdell said her and her husband appreciate words of encouragement, so they try to say positive things to each other often, such as thanking each other for picking up a chore around the house, encouraging each other before a difficult task and reminding each other what they love about one another.
“We also both enjoy quality time together, and usually spend at least part of our evening hanging out together, such as playing a board game, watching a TV show, or going on a run,” Blaisdell said via email.
Outside of learning about the ways your partner perceives love, and how can you show affection to them using the five love languages, it is also important to learn how to communicate better with your partner in order to have a healthier relationship.
Dr. Yax said it is important to understand that communication is not going to be perfect all of the time, as each person in a relationship has their own communication style and needs. It can take time and effort for couples to develop a healthy way of communicating that best suits their relationship.
“A great way to improve communication is to practice listening to and validating your partner’s needs, as this helps foster a safe environment to share important thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, and leads to more self-disclosure,” Dr. Yax said via email. “Over time, both the breadth (variety of topics discussed) and depth (intimate details that are shared) of self-disclosure should increase in a gradual manner. As a result, intimacy and relationship satisfaction should increase as well. It is important to be responsive and validating during these moments of disclosure, as it demonstrates acceptance and care.”
Dr. Yax said to improve communication another thing people should do is to communicate without distractions. For example, placing cell phones away, turning off the tv and simply spending some time together without interruptions from our busy world.
“Taking the time to share interests and experiences, show affection, and engage in active listening will not only improve communication, it will support relationship growth as well,” Dr. Yax said via email.
Another part of a healthy relationship is knowing how to deal with conflict in the relationship. Dr. Yax said conflict tends to occur more after the “honeymoon” stage has ended, once couples start to invest more time, commitment and become more interdependent sharing their lives. The manner in which a couple manages their conflict and how one reacts when dissatisfied about an issue in the relationship can make a relationship even stronger, or gradually break the relationship apart over time.
Yax referred to research done by Caryl Rusbult and her colleagues where they examined how people react to conflict and discovered four different types of responses to conflict and dissatisfaction in a relationship. The four are Exit, Loyalty, Voice and Neglect. Dr. Yax said these responses are based on whether a person is active or passive in how they deal with conflict, and whether they approach conflict in a constructive or destructive manner.
“When disagreements are approached in a more constructive manner (Voice, Loyalty) couples typically report greater relationship satisfaction. Destructive responses (Exit, Neglect) put the relationship more at risk for future conflict, hurtful behaviors and eventual termination,” Dr. Yax said via email. “Knowing your own conflict style and learning how it can impact your partner can ultimately provide a structure that supports proactive conversations and allows couples to manage conflict in a healthy manner.”
In order to improve your relationship with your significant other, you and your partner should start investing time to learn how each other show affection, communicate and deal with conflict.