How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship

For the most part, people want the same thing from a romantic partner. People want spouses and partners who are:

  • Understanding
  • Appreciative
  • Respectful
  • Caring and kind
  • Helpful
  • Trustworthy
  • Positive
  • Fun to be around

Relationships are difficult to maintain when they are filled with conflict, negativity and a lack of trust.

So, what does it take to maintain a healthy relationship?

People in long-term, satisfying relationships tend to do the following (this advice is adapted from Montgomery, Cole and Bradac, Harvey and Omarzu, Aron and Aron, Feeney and Collins, and Canary and Stafford’s work on Relational Maintenance):

Slow, but Consistent – Relationships work the best when people go slow and take their time getting to know each other. Whirlwind romances usually end in disaster. It also helps to be consistently supportive and encouraging. Inconsistent behavior causes misunderstandings and uncertainty.

Keep Things Upbeat – Relationships work the best when partners express a positive and upbeat attitude towards each other. Genuine displays of happiness and affection go a long way when trying to make a relationship work. By contrast, relationships fail when indifference, anger and negativity become the norm. In fact, even a little negativity can create a lot of problems in a close relationship. This does not mean that people cannot express negative feelings in a relationship, but that there are appropriate (and inappropriate) ways of dealing with one’s negative feelings (see talk about problems).

Approach Problems Together – Couples feel closer and are more satisfied with their relationships when they approach problems and difficulties as a team. Couples who take an US versus the PROBLEM, rather than a YOU versus ME approach to conflict are much happier in the long run.

Don’t Take Each Other For Granted – Over time, couples typically take each other for granted. At the start of a relationship people appreciate all the things that their partners do for them. However, as time goes on, people tend to expect more, but acknowledge a partner’s contributions less often. To keep a relationship happy and healthy it is important to show appreciation on a consistent basis.

Appreciate Differences – Relationships work the best when partners have a lot in common, but respect and appreciate the differences that do exist. It helps to appreciate someone for who they are rather than try to change them or how they behave (see relationship dynamics).

Keep Things Exciting and Fun - It is easy for couples to get stuck in a rut. Doing the same things over and over creates boredom. Falling into a routine limits conversations and it can take the fun out of life. Successful couples learn how to manage this dilemma by doing novel and exciting activities with each other as often as they can (see boredom kills). Sharing novel and exciting experiences gives couples something to talk about and it keeps romance alive.

Be Approachable – People need to be able to talk freely with a romantic partner. Sharing what is going on in one’s life and how one feels about issues is important to do. But, being open with a partner is not always easy because it requires spouses to tell the truth and to LISTEN to things that may be difficult to hear. Listening in an attempt to UNDERSTAND, not control, evaluate, or judge is critical to having an satisfying relationship.

plant growingExpress Commitment – Relationships work the best when partners reassure each other of their love and commitment. It never hurts to tell a spouse that you love him or her and that you will always be there.

Celebrate Success – When your partner is having a great day, accomplishes something important at work, or experiences some other personal achievement, go out of your way to highlight his or her success. Show interest in your partner by asking a lot of questions about the achievement or event (“Tell me all about it. I want to hear all the details. You must be so happy.”). Relationships thrive when partners go out of their way to make each other feel special when good things happen.

How does your relationship compare? Try our relationship quality questionnaire.

Or on the pages that follow, the specific relationship issues are addressed:

Using the link on the right will take you through each page of this section....

You can also visit our blog for the latest research on romantic relationships.