How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship: Tips for Couples from The Family Institute

Couples in romantic relationships frequently receive advice—solicited or not—from family, friends, and even strangers. Such suggestions can be vague and unwarranted, providing couples with little quality information. For couples that want concrete and realistic advice, The Family Institute at Northwestern University publishes a “Tip of the Month” series on relationships. These tips, based on clinical practices and research from knowledgeable clinicians, are detailed enough to actually provide assistance to couples and short enough to be absorbed and put into practice immediately. Following are a few tips compiled and condensed from the series to help couples maintain a healthy relationship.

Beyond an Apology

A simple “I’m sorry” doesn’t always cut it. Sometimes more is needed to end conflict and address the underlying experience of one or both partners. Most couple conflicts are characterized by one of two different kinds of underlying experiences: perceived threat or perceived neglect. When we perceive a threat from a partner, we experience a feeling of scolding or belittling, triggering our sense of intimidation and fear. On the other hand, when we perceive neglect from a partner, we experience a sense of indifference. Understanding these two underlying experiences can help us when deciding on an appropriate action to end an argument and restore peace to the relationship. Communicate your understanding of the underlying experience with your partner to begin a conversation about ways to resolve the conflict.

Observe Yourself

Understanding yourself is an extremely valuable quality in a relationship. Noticing your physical and emotional reactions to conflicts forces you to think before acting, and shows your attempts to avoid unnecessary arguments. An important way to put this into practice is by participating in active listening—being fully present in a conversation. This requires you to put your thoughts aside to fully focus on what your partner is saying. Observing oneself can cut down on bickering and result in fewer fights.

Marriage and the Heart

How does marriage affect your health? Researchers suggest that a happy marriage can make you a healthier person, while a high-stress marriage can have the opposite effect. Researchers have noted better health among divorced and single people than among spouses in high-conflict marriages. Repeated exposure to stress hormones can gradually undermine heart function, especially for women. For a healthy heart, it makes sense to develop communication skills that can lead to a healthy and happy marriage.

Say ‘Thank You’

It’s easy to take your partner for granted, especially after the honeymoon phase is over. Researchers have found that a “cycle of generosity” is the key to a healthy relationship. Couples who praise their significant others for the thoughtful things that they do—big or small—report being more appreciative of each other and more inclined to consider each other’s needs.

Couples can find more relationship tips by visiting The Family Institute at Northwestern University’s website. You can also subscribe to receive tips via email.