A large part of the work I do is focused on how to improve the health of our relationships. There are definitely some very specific things that do and do not work in regards to communication, working with conflict and sustaining a healthy functioning relationship. My own personal and professional relationships have certainly provided a fertile training ground for me to practice what I preach. It’s not always easy but certainly worth it in the long run.
There are proven benefits to being in healthy relationships that include improved heart health, lower blood pressure, improved immune functioning and better emotional health and the ability to self regulate during stressful times.
So what constitutes a healthy relationship? Although it’s subjective there are certainly things that I recognize as being healthy characteristics.
Safety – How safe to folks feel? Can hot topics be brought up and discussed. Is there a willingness to challenge each other? Is there a high level of commitment? People fear that what they say will be used against them at a later time? How much trust is present and how free to folks feel to explore issues together in a transparent and perhaps vulnerable process.
A willingness to be influenced – It’s important that folks are open to each other’s ideas and remain willing to change their mind. How empowered to people feel in the relationship? Do all parties feel they have a voice that is valued and heard? How much influence do people feel they have with each other?
A willingness to resolve conflict without blame – First of all are both parties clear about why it’s important to work on conflict when it comes up and is there a willingness on both sides to “resolve” it? If so, then both parties must be willing to set aside the tendency to blame or make each other wrong in order to find common ground.
A higher ratio of positive acts to negative ones – According to Dr. John Gottman healthy relationship have a minimum 5 to 1 positive to negative acts. Positive acts could include simple acknowledgements, demonstrating willingness, a smile, eye contact, showing empathy or interest, physical contact or any other acts the increase positive feelings for all involved. If we maintain high levels of positivity in the relationship we can sustain conflicts and other stressors with little damage to the relationship.
Positive acts during times of conflict – Conflict is a normal part of being in relationship. If we can demonstrate positive acts during conflict we can maintain the positivity and survive conflicts with more ease. Things like softening tone of voice, body language and facial expressions can increase positivity. Being willing to be influence increases it too. For me, feeling heard increases positive feelings so when my partner really listens it goes a long way.
Minimal use of toxins – Toxins include Blame, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. Reducing the use of these in our relationships improves the overall health of the relationship and the individuals in it. Toxins affect our health and our ability to navigate conflict. In fact, we cannot resolve conflict where toxins are present.
Rank Awareness – Last but not least Rank Awareness is critical. Rank speaks to our power in the relationship. Power is contextual and if we can develop an awareness of where we have it and how it impacts folks we can build trust with others by encouraging them to speak to us and give us feedback.
So, keep an eye out for these things and if you want to work on improving the health of your relationships then work on developing yourself in the areas listed above. Change starts with you. Change your behavior and others will change their behavior towards you!