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5 Keys to a Happy Relationship by Joe Borders, MFT

12/30/2016 11:30AM ● By David Norby

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As a therapist, I’ve seen relationships troubled in many different ways, but the following are the core components I always suggest couples work on.

Know your cycle

All couples have a central negative cycle they repetitively get stuck in, which is the way they cope with feeling insecure or unsafe in a relationship. In the most common type, pursuer-distancer, one person tends to pull back when feeling insecure while the other person copes by pursuing connection from their partner. In this way, couples trigger each other and tension escalates. The distancer feels more pull to distance, which makes the pursuer feel the need to pursue even more. Through recognizing and understanding their cycle, couples can feel more secure with each other and avoid many painful arguments. 

Try to assume the best about your partner

Oftentimes when we’re upset with our partner we assume they have malicious intent or are being foolish. It can help to take a moment and think, “If I were to assume the best about you then____.” Maybe your partner was late picking you up because they were worried about meeting a deadline at work, or they were short with you because they didn’t sleep well the night before. Knowing these things doesn’t forgive bad behavior, but makes it seem less personal, intentional and offensive, and helps you to empathize with your partner.

Avoid punching first or running

When we’ve been in a relationship with someone for a while we collect memories of all the times they’ve slighted us. Humans are naturally made to look out for danger, so it’s no wonder we pay such close attention to negative interactions in relationships, where we’re our most vulnerable. After repetitive negative interactions, we assume or predict that our partners intend to harm us or are going to do something to upset us. In cases like this, many people will either punch first by throwing out a quick insult, or run away before anything has actually happened—thus triggering the negative cycle.

Keep communication lines open

Although it sounds cliché, open communication is imperative in a healthy relationship. You need to be able to communicate your feelings, feel heard and understood, and do the same for your partner.

Don’t make your partner pay for someone else’s mistakes

Breakups, abuse and neglect in relationships can be traumatic. Much like in PTSD, bad experiences in previous relationships can affect your sense of safety in a current courtship. It’s important to explore underlying emotions and assumptions that trigger you, and realize that you could be carrying past trauma and treating your partner as if they were your abusive stepparent or ex who had an affair. In situations like this, therapy can really help. 

 Joe Borders, MFT, works with couples, teens and individuals in Roseville and Sacramento. He specializes in addiction, codependency and working with LGBTQ clients. For more information and to read his bi-weekly mental health blog.

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