It is so very hard to maintain and strengthen through time a love relationship with another human being. This daunting effort is right up there with raising children as one of the greatest challenges faced in life by adults.
I should know as I’ve been working on this healthy relationship project on and off since 1967 with several people, including the past almost 20 years with my true love.
Frankly, I wonder why, with all that practice, I have not gotten much better at it. I suspect I have not looked deep enough inside myself to uncover negative repetitive behaviors that create relationship difficulties.
In fact, taking personal responsibility for one’s individual actions while in a couple is one of the first steps to improving a love relationship, according to a local licensed professional counselor I consulted for this story, Michael R. King, who has lived in Flagstaff for two years.
King is the owner of Desert Foothills Counseling, and also sees clients in Sedona and Cottonwood. He has a master’s degree in counseling and worked for eight years in practice in Scottsdale and Prescott. His experiences have included working with children, adolescents and adults in coping with a variety of relationship problems and mental health disorders.
King says he typically sees about eight to 10 couples each week and leads two to three domestic violence intervention groups each week.
For a couple or individual in distress to consult a professional is a good starting point if they seek more fulfillment in their lives through new directions.
“Sometimes life presents challenges that result in stress, confusion and pain,” King observes. “In such situations, the encouragement of a professional trained in problem solving is essential.”
So in honor of Valentine’s Day, let’s look at the five tips for creating a healthy relationship he suggests, including taking personal responsibility.
1. Practicing positive communication is King’s first tip for a healthy relationship.
“A healthy couple makes a commitment to maintain love and respect while negotiating through a problem or disagreement,” he says. “Positive communication also requires accountability by taking responsibility for our words and actions and not blaming another person for our decisions.”
Healthy couples are assertive, open and honest in communication, without fear of ridicule or criticism. They also practice fairness, cooperation, active listening and honesty. They don’t belittle or discount the other partner’s opinions or beliefs.
2. Embracing the art of forgiveness is King’s next tip for couples.
“While many couples tend to escape to days gone by and harbor resentments that may never be resolved, healthy couples learn to live in the present,” he advises. “Admittedly, we have all been harmed emotionally by our partner’s actions in the past, but at some point the problem shifts from the incident that occurred to an individual who is now harboring anger and resentment about a past wrong that cannot be corrected, only forgiven.”
Forgiving a transgression is a way to free ourselves of the pains that haunt us. Holding onto unforgiveness and resentment only serves to further the damage.
3. A third tip for gaining a healthy relationship is to respect and accept your love.
“True love should include trust, respect and admiration,” King notes. “Trying to change your partner implies they are not acceptable as they are and need to be changed. This is far from acceptance. When we love someone we completely accept them, quirks included.”
If a relationship is anchored in a desire to change a partner, that relationship is a controlling and abusive one. In a respectful relationship, partners create a safe place for each to grow and feel supported.
“We cherish our partner and look not just at our needs and happiness, but also at our partner’s needs and happiness,” King adds.
4. His fourth tip is a high priority — trust.
“Trustworthy people are open and honest people. It’s not a matter of not lying, it’s a matter of total openness and honesty — not hiding things from your partner,” King says. “If you’re deleting text messages, emails and phone call records because you don’t want your partner to see them, you’re not being honest.”
Sometimes people have difficulty trusting because someone violated their trust in the past, so past hurts need to be resolved in order to move on.
“Trust is a foundation for a healthy relationship and when violated, it can destroy the love that a couple share,” King continues. “When we have trust, we possess freedom from many worries and jealousy.”
5. Tip No. five is the most lighthearted one: Keep the passion alive!
“Have fun together!” King says. “Laugh together often and work to stay connected.
“The bond that couples build together during good times is the glue that will keep their love strong during the difficult times.”
Spending quality time together can mean sharing hobbies, interests and other activities, including romance.
“Keeping physical intimacy alive (not just sex) is a vital component to a loving relationship,” King concludes.
It’s nice to have these five tips set forth so succinctly, I think, and perhaps there is still a lot of hope and good times ahead in the World of True Love.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all those who dare to love.
This article first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine. Michael R. King, LPC, can be reached at Desert Foothills Counseling, (928) 224-1824.