Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Guest Blog Post: 3 Tips for a Healthy Relationship from Psychotherapist Heather Dickinson

A happy and healthy relationship is good for your health.  Whatever the level of satisfaction in your partnership, you can benefit from these three easy tips that will help improve your sense of connection to your partner.  All relationships take work to keep them healthy and strong.  Hopefully these straightforward tips are fun and easy ideas to incorporate into your daily life.

Heather Dickinson and her husband, Brendan Dickinson.
1. Invest in your relationship: Make deposits not just withdrawals

A leading relationship expert and researcher of marital stability Dr. John Gottman talks about the idea of the “emotional bank account”.  The emotional bank account is a way to think about the level of security and happiness in your relationship.  The idea is that when your emotional bank account is high, there is enough security, goodwill and positivity with your partner to offset the negativity, conflicts, and mistakes that inevitably arise.  When your account is low there is little to draw upon and feel happy about.  The emotional bank account encourages you to think about what you put in and take out of the relationship; how your actions support or stress the relationship.   In thinking about keeping the emotional bank account high, think about the ratio of 5:1 (five positive interactions for every negative).  Gottman’s research reveals that happy couples have 5 positive interactions for every negative one.   I love this simple ratio because it is easy to remember and helps promote the importance of investing positively into the relationship. 

2.  Let your partner know how you keep them in mind 

We all want to be seen, understood, and loved- however you want to say it.  We want to feel connected to our partners.  Letting your partner know how you keep them in mind in small ways throughout your day goes a long way.  It touches us to know how we are thought about, missed, and remembered.  The old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a real issue that is often behind a lot of the disconnect that can happen in couples.  When we feel that our partner doesn’t keep us in mind, it can trigger the vulnerabilities (fear of abandonment, feeling unloved, etc.) that lead to conflict and disconnect.  In our busy lives we can easily forget to communicate the many ways we keep our partner in mind.  I recommend taking a few moments out of your day to let your partner know you are thinking about them.  This doesn’t mean grand gestures or big bouquets of flowers (although the occasional bouquet is generally much appreciated), but rather small and easy things - just a few seconds or minutes out of your day- a sweet text, a funny message, etc.

3.  “Keep the Fights Clean and the Sex Dirty”

This is one of my favorite quotes.  In an interview Kevin Bacon was asked about the secret to his long and happy marriage.  He said their golden rule is to, “keep the fights clean and the sex dirty”.   Witty and spot on.

A true sign of a healthy relationship is not if, but how you fight.    A few clean fighting tips are to avoid using “always” and “never”.  They only lead to trouble and pretty much guarantee a defensive response.  Keep your complaint specific to your partner’s behavior and the current issue.   Don’t globalize and assault their character.  Now let’s address the sex part of the Kevin Bacon principle.  While friendship is the most important part of your relationship and the foundation that will sustain it over time, sex is important.  For “dirty” I would substitute alive; it doesn’t have to be FiftyShades of Grey kinky, but it has to stay alive.  Sex is an important part of staying connected, so do it and have fun.

Hopefully these tips give you some easy ways to work on your relationship in small ways every day.  Good luck and remember that the little things add up.

Heather Dickinson is a psychotherapist in private practice in Manhattan.  She works with individuals, couples and families. For appointments or more information call: (917) 727-9880.

Blissfully Yours,

Tatiana Ridley, CHHC, AADP