How to Create a Strong, Satisfying Relationship

Couple hugging

Slow down and listen.

When we communicate, sometimes we ignore what our partner is saying. Instead of focusing on our partner, our thoughts are consumed with what we plan to say next. If you pay attention to your partner’s words, and then you reflect back what you hear them say or feel, then they will feel heard. As a result, you will be on the road to a resolution of the issue. Does someone in your life, maybe yourself, constantly repeat a message over and over? It is probably because said person does not feel heard.

Try reflective listening and see if you can stop that person from repeating. “Reflective listening” means you state back the jest of what you heard or the emotion associated with the communicator’s message. Keep it short. If that is not what the speaker meant for you to hear, then the speaker will say, “No that is not what I wanted you to hear.” The speaker then repeats the statement, trying to change it in a way that the meaning can be more clearly understood. We talk and listen through our life filters. What one person says and intends to be heard may be totally different than what the receiver hears. Reflective listening is an advantageous tool because it confirms if the message was heard in the speaker’s intended manner.

You get what you notice.

This concept applies to both positive and negative observations. This concept works especially well with parenting. If you continually notice the “bad” or negative, you will get more of that action. If you notice everything you do not like about your partner, then you will get more of that. Try noticing, validating, and acknowledging the things you want to see more often. For example, you can say the following: “I really like it when you kiss me goodbye.” Be sure to keep the “hooks” out of the comments. For example, it is detrimental to say, “I really like it when you (finally remember to) kiss me goodbye.” The “finally remember to” is a hook. It makes the nice positive statement hurtful and negative. Try noticing what you want and see if it works. Keep the “hooks” out of your compliments, too, and you’ll have the best results.

Express your anger assertively.

Anger is just an emotion. It is not “good” or “bad.” Emotions are our barometer to our world. They tell us if we like or do not like what is happening around us. Anger is a good emotion because it tells us when something hurtful is happening. Expressing our anger is an important aspect of good emotional health. Feeling anger is not a bad thing. How we choose to express this anger is what gets us into trouble or not. Expressing our anger in an aggressive or hurtful way will damage our relationships. Sometimes we just need tools to help us express our anger in an assertive way. Find a program that will help you. Find a professional in your area to give you tools for change. Remember you learned how to express your anger in your family of origin. It is a learned behavior, so you can learn how to change it.

Be polite and kind.

This almost seems too basic, doesn’t it? Well, sometimes when we are with people every day, we forget to treat them with respect and kindness. Just because they are our partner or family member does not mean they do not deserve care and kindness. Kids respond much better to being “asked” to do something politely instead of demanded. I have a secret for you: adults respond better when you ask them and not demand them, too. So, if you want your partner to do something, try asking politely. If we are stressed with life, sometimes we take it out on our family. If you find that is your pattern, find a way to reduce your stress so you can be kind to the people who are important and care about you. Maybe your partner is on the same page as you about being stressed. Perhaps you can be angry or frustrated at what is making you stressed rather than angry and frustrated with each other.

Take care of yourself, too.

Taking care of others is admirable. Sometimes we get our good feelings about ourselves by taking care of others. If you routinely take care of another person’s needs instead of your own, you may have some co-dependent tendencies. If you feel you may have co-dependent behaviors that interfere with your relationship, find a way to change. There are several books on co-dependent behaviors. My favorite is Co-Dependent No More by Melodie Beattie. Taking care of yourself is important so you can truly be there for others when you need to be. Think of it as having a basket that contains your issues. Everyone in the world has a personal basket of issues. If you take others’ issues out of their basket to “take care of them,” then you are robbing them of the chance to use their own power over their world. When someone throws his/her “issues” in your basket, you can take them back out and put them where they belong. Reflective listening is a great tool to put others’ issues back into their basket. If you are co-dependent, you will keep them in your basket and worry about them. Remember: we learn many patterns from our family of origin. If we were given the role of caretaker while we were growing up, we may have a hard time breaking free from that pattern.

Remember: you are the only thing over which you really have control.

Okay, you don’t have to blindly believe this. Think about it. You can ask your child to do something, and he/she may refuse until you beat him/her within an inch of his/her life (please do not try this at home). They may eventually do what you want them to do, but they are still deciding to act. Adults are the same. We cannot make someone angry. You can know the buttons to push and the issues to press, but the other person has to choose to respond with anger. Someone cannot make us angry. Don’t give anyone else that power. Only you can decide if you are going to be angry. You only have control over yourself, your behaviors and your choices. So take a deep breath, and try it on. When you realize you cannot control the world, your stress level will lower.

It is okay to make a mistake and be “wrong.”

It takes a comfortable and secure person to be okay with making mistakes. That seems so counter-intuitive. When we are human, we make mistakes. Now I know I am a “Goddess,” but I am a “human” Goddess, so making mistakes is okay. Isn’t it annoying when you have to be with someone who thinks he/she is perfect? Wouldn’t it be awful to try to live with someone who truly is perfect and never makes mistakes? Yikes!!! I want someone who is “real.” I like the flaws, mistakes, human frailties, and all. When the other person is real, it is much easier to be the real me.

Be aware you both can be right.

When couples come in for counseling, I like them to complete a personality profile. This helps them notice the “differences.” You can complete a similar profile, and it will help you maximize your similarities and appreciate your differences. Think about being “different,” not right and wrong. If one person has to be right, and the other person must be wrong, then you are setting yourself up for failure. Two people can spend the day together where they experience the same weather, same lunch, and same experiences. However, one can say they hated the day, and the other can say they loved it. They are both right. Yes, one hated and one loved, but both have their own reality, and they are both right. Find a personality profile and learn to maximize your similarities and appreciate your differences. Kiersey sorter II is a good one. My Type on Facebook is also very informative. Get some information about you and your partner so you can appreciate “different” instead of concentrating on who is right and who is wrong. Give it a try.

Touch more, touch more, touch more…

This is my favorite one. This doesn’t necessarily mean groping or sexual touching. Well, the sexual touching is good too if it is consensual. This touch is good ol’ Human touching. It’s the I-care-about-you-I-love-you-I-think-you-are-special kind of touching. Try gently stroking hair, squeezing hands, hugging, patting — anywhere!

Here is where the communication is so important. Ask your partner what kind of touching he/she would like. Tell your partner what kind of touching you would like. Sometimes we just need to be touched or held and not have sex. Research has proven human touch is essential for infants to develop properly. Maybe it is essential for adults to continue development or maintain good emotional health, too.

Have a touching conversation with your partner. Okay, that was a sneaky one. You get the picture. Give the non-sexual touching a try. Basic human need is for human touch. Sex can be an important part of a relationship, too. If your sex does not sizzle, find some information about being a lover. We are not taught to be a lover. We must find sexual information independently in the world of media information. We all know the media information can be wrong, so be sure you get the straight scope on sex. Ask a mental health professional for a referral to a sex therapist or source for sex information. Take a workshop about sexuality together. Communicate about your needs and wishes. Talk about fantasies and see if you can fulfill those for each other. Touch of all kinds can help a relationship, but you must communicate personal preferences. So, talk about it.

Take time to be together. Talk, listen, care, and touch. This builds and nurtures your relationship.

Yes, monogamy can be hot, but it takes work, time, and attention. A relationship is a living thing. It must be nurtured, and you must give attention. A relationship does not take care of itself. So, if you want hot monogamy, pay attention. Take relationship time (couples time) away from kids and others. Make special time for just the partners in the relationship. Talk about what you like, need, and want. Give yourself the gift of forever love with your partner. Schedule routine time together just for the two of you. Schedule this time weekly, daily, and monthly. Learn some activities that will increase your emotional intimacy. Once again, a mental health professional can potentially help. Internet exploration about building emotional intimacy may give you ideas. This private time does not include sexual intimacy or sex. Instead, it is sharing the inner most “you” with your partner. This is the time to open up and trust your lover to respect and honor your revelation with care and consideration. Emotional intimacy will bring a deeper, more caring aspect to your relationship.

In closing, I wish you joy and happiness in your relationship. Take care of yourself and communicate your needs. Express yourself in a way that does not hurt anyone — even you. Find the hot monogamy that is available. Building a solid, satisfying relationship will bring joy to your life. Be happy.

© Copyright 2010 by Helena Madsen, MA, therapist in Gilberts, Illinois. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 7 comments
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  • harriet.c

    harriet.c

    September 4th, 2010 at 3:10 AM

    many little things in life becomes some of the most treasured moments…you know why? because it is spontaneous, because we have not thought too much or planned too much about it, because a caring hug at the right time is far more valuable than an expensive gift…it is for this reason that I try and enjoy every day of my life with my husband like there’s no tomorrow,like this-is-the-moment-so-live-it-you-may-not-get-it-again :)

  • runninfast

    runninfast

    September 4th, 2010 at 6:18 AM

    I have the most amazing relationship with my husband, and no we are not newlyweds. We are just like veery other married couple out there except for one thing. I think that we very much take the time that is needed to listen to and care for each other in more than just a surface way. I really care about his day, the things going on with him and he in turn feels the same about me and ets me know it. We have always been able to connect and for us fortunately we have found a way to make that grow over the years instead of letting it wane like with so many other couples that we know. I do not know if there is a perfect person for everyone, but I know that through the grace of GOd I have found mine and I so wish that everyone was able to have that same kind of experience in their lives.

  • Maddie

    Maddie

    September 5th, 2010 at 4:21 AM

    Love and giving is what it is all about. You cannot be selfish and mean, you actually have to open up to think about someone else and care about what he or she is feeling. rarely would I think that a selfish person could have a full grown all out relationship with someone because of their inability to give to others what they want to keep to themselves. being in a relationship a successful one is a lot of hard work and for some people they are too selfish and self involved to have anything that would come close to being a success in that area. Sad really, because sometimes you feel like these are the people who need it the most but they are unwilling to do the hard work to make that a reality.

  • Iris

    Iris

    September 6th, 2010 at 2:25 PM

    Be willing to compromise. That’s the secret to relationship success.

  • KJP

    KJP

    September 7th, 2010 at 4:42 AM

    A strong relationship is one thing, but satisfying is quite another. I think that you have to work hard to pick out that right partner from the very beginning or you may never be able to realize the full potential of a completely stisfied life. You have to have someone who talks and listens, as well as understands your concerns. That is a lot of what you need to ensure that the relationship that you are in will nurture and comfort you any time that you need it.

  • Yvonne Sinclair M.A.

    Yvonne Sinclair M.A.

    October 4th, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    It is always so heart warming to hear about relationships that are working. In my business I work with those who are troubled. Thank you for sharing the positive. Yes it takes attention, caring, and work. It is worth it. Keep it up. Yvonne

  • Ilissa Banhazl, MFT

    Ilissa Banhazl, MFT

    October 3rd, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    All excellent suggestions for couples! A plan for satisfying relationships!
    Ilissa Banhazl, marriage and family therapy in Glendora

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