Before I started to write this article, I had a slight hesitation owing to a disagreement lingering from the night before.
I don’t even remember what my husband, Michael, and I argued about, but at the time it seemed like a REALLY BIG DEAL (caps lock on). We both laughed the next day when I asked Michael his thoughts on healthy relationships for this article.
Before I got married, I thought the definition of a healthy relationship was minimal conflict. Maybe that’s what a lot of us think on some level. But now, I see that minimal conflict may even go in the unhealthy relationship category because oftentimes this is a sign of stuffed feelings that lead to resentment, a lack of voice in the relationship, or a relationship devoid of intimacy.
So, argue on, couples, but here are a few things I believe every healthy marriage has:
1. Healthy Conflict Resolution Devoid of Name-Calling, Yelling or Low Blows
Michael and I have a rule in our marriage—no name calling or low blows when we are frustrated with each other. I remember sitting in premarital counseling thinking this was a silly rule, because I thought I would never want to use harsh words toward this man I love deeply. But as our relationship matured, we both have admittedly wanted to hurt the other person with our words.
Two different people in a close relationship are going to disagree, hurt each others feelings, and have selfish tendencies. The key is to learn how to solve these issues as they arise without letting emotions take over our better judgement.
2. Relationship Priority Over Other “Good Things”
Great relationships don’t just happen. They take work. Even though we know this truth, it can be tempting to neglect our relationship in the name of other “good things.”
Whether that’s church, social work, being there for someone who really needs us, working for the next promotion, kids or helping others—good things can spoil great marriages. That’s why it isn’t hard to find an example of someone doing great things, but having a terrible relationship. Maintaining a strong marriage means making your spouse a priority no matter what else begs for your attention.
3. Mutual Respect of Each Other’s Time and Desires
The company I work for doesn’t have a vacation policy, because one of our guiding principles is mutual respect. Mutual respect at work is only effective when everyone operates under a mindset of how our choices (including vacation time) will affect our co-workers.
The same goes for marriage. It may not be wrong for him to stay out with his buddies until 2 a.m. every weekend or for her to rarely be home during the week because of social commitments, but these actions demonstrate a lack of respect that will deteriorate a relationship. We must ask how our actions will affect our partner and what they need from us.
4. Trusted Advisors Who Know How to Be Direct
It’s easy to fall into the trap of asking all our best friends, mothers, co-workers and hairdresser their advice on an issue. However, it’s not helpful to seek marriage advice from any more than one or two trusted advisors, because of the tendency to keep asking until we get the answer we want versus possessing a true desire for wisdom. Every relationship needs outside, wise council—people who you both admire and who aren’t afraid to point out areas of improvement.
5. An Open Door to Talk About Sex.
Whether your sex life is easy and carefree or difficult and confusing, it’s important to be able to discuss desires and fears in regard to intimacy.
For many who grew up in the Church, sex was considered bad and dirty and then we were supposed to seamlessly flip the “marriage switch” and see it as good and honoring to God.
Sex is a lot more complicated than Allie and Noah’s steamy encounter in The Notebook, so it’s important to be able to discuss this topic openly and freely with your spouse.
6. Healthy Finances
As money can be a divisive topic in relationships, it’s vital to get this right. Agreeing on spending, making a financial plan and setting goals are usually good places to start. But remember, your spouse is not defined by their financial decisions.
7. Unscheduled Time Together
Just like you can’t sit down with your 5-year-old for two hours on Saturday and say “Ready, go! Quality time starts now!” you also can’t expect your spouse to feel loved when you have to pencil them into your busy schedule.
Your relationship needs unscheduled time to wake up late, explore, be spontaneous, laugh and have an impromptu dance party. Again, stop doing all those other “good things” so you can give your relationship the fuel it needs.
8. No ‘Off-Limits’ Topics
Everyone has things they don’t want to talk about. Whether it’s weight, spending, family, the past, a friend or anything else that makes you want to bite off your spouse’s head when they mention it, for intimacy’s sake you need to work through these topics and allow your spouse to come close.
What else would you add to this list of what a healthy relationship has?
Ruthie Dean is the Director of Communications at Bernard Health and a passionate writer and speaker about relationships. She and her husband, Michael, chronicle their dating mistakes and offer a fresh approach to love, sex & relationships in the age of texting and Twitter in their new book, Real Men DonÕt Text. SheÕs @Ruthie_Dean on Twitter.