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4 Things You Need to Know to Have a Strong, Healthy Relationship

Senior couple walking on the beach

“To love is nothing. To be loved is something. But to love and be loved, that’s everything.“ ~T. Tolis

Relationships are not always easy. If you lack the tools to engage properly with a partner and cannot show up in a healthy way, you will find your relationship is ten times harder and most likely prone to failure.

I wish I had known these things when I first started dating, as it would have made my life much easier.

If you want to have a healthy relationship, you must know the following:

1. How to communicate effectively

My first love and I were together for four years, and our relationship failed because we could not communicate. I didn’t know how to express myself effectively, and I blamed him for all our problems. I never stopped to think about my part in everything and how I was failing to meet his needs.

One of the major obstacles couples face, if not the major obstacle, is the ability to communicate properly. I don’t mean talk. I mean communicate. What we often fail to realize is that we talk at each other rather than listening and hearing and trying to understand. Anyone can talk, but not everyone can communicate.

Communicating means you understand are able to express your needs in a way that can be understood by your partner, and that you try your hardest to understand them and their needs.

Next time you are with your partner and they are talking, try listening. Sit and listen, and do not try to think of the next thing you are going to say or how you are going to contradict what they are saying. When people feel heard they will be more open to listening to what you have to say.

If you cannot understand or refuse to try to understand what your partner needs because you are too focused on getting your point across and making sure you are understood, then you are talking and not communicating.

Do you and your partner talk at each other? Do you always feel the need to be right and win the argument? Even if you win the argument you could lose something much more valuable. Although you may be winning the battle, you will be losing the war.

It is a known fact that men and women communicate differently. The sooner we all accept this the easier it will be to stop being so frustrated and learn to understand each other.

Throughout history men and women have had to adapt differently, hence a difference in communication styles.

Studies have shown that women are able to use both sides of their brains at the same time while men can only use one side at a time. Men are protectors and providers, and their mode of communication is silent problem solving, whereas women are nurturers and we have learned to cope through talking and sharing of experiences.

There is so much that can be said on this topic, as it’s one of the main reasons relationships fail. Learning how to communicate with your partner will not only serve your relationship, but it will serve you in the workplace and in all human interactions.

One of my favorite sayings is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

A couple of great resources for anyone who wants to learn how to communicate within a couple are John Gray’s books Men are from Mars, Woman are from Venus and Couple Skills.

2. Your love language

In 1995 Gary Chapman, PhD wrote a book asserting that there are five love languages. He insisted that if you and your partner speak different languages, there will be constant dissatisfaction and unhappiness in your relationship.

If you are lucky enough to meet someone that has the same love language as you, then great! But, if you do not know your own language and it differs from your partner, how can they know how to make you happy, and vice versa?

On the other hand, if you don’t know your partner’s love language, how can you make them happy? If theirs is touch and you don’t really like close physical contact, then you may not ever be a match.

The Five Languages Are:

Touch

Some people feel love by being touched. If touch is your love language, you require pats on the back, holding hands, cuddling, and having someone in close proximity to you.

Receiving Gifts

Others feel loved by receiving gifts, and not necessarily Tiffany diamonds. Gifts can be flowers or simple tokens of affection, something that shows the person took the time to think about you and pick out or make a gift that you value.

Quality Time

If you want someone to give you their undivided attention (even if for short periods), then your love language is quality time. You crave for someone to listen to you, uninterrupted. No T.V. No Phone. You enjoy sharing activities together, and the very act of someone’s company and one-on-one interaction makes you happy.

Acts of Service

If you like it when your partner helps around the house because you are super busy, or washes your car or throws in a load of laundry, then Acts of Service is your love language.

Words of Affirmation

Everyone needs words of affirmation to some extent, but if you need to hear someone say, “I love you because you are so special” or something that affirms who you are, and if you are highly affected by insults, then words of affirmation is your love language.

My last boyfriend’s love language was physical touch. Mine is quality time. I always tried to be there for him physically, whether it was holding his hand while he was driving, coming up behind him and giving him a hug while he was shaving, lying next to him, on the couch or even rubbing the back of his neck.

The problem came in when I told him what my love language was and he had no desire to meet it. If your partner doesn’t care about loving you in a way that you need to be loved, not in the way they need to be loved, you are probably doomed.

For more information and a test of your love language, you can go to: 5lovelanguages.com.

3. Your attachment style

There are three types of attachment. Attachment styles are thought to form from childhood based on parent-child interactions, and as we grow older they can seriously impact our relationships.

There are studies that explain how the difference in attachment comes about including those performed by American psychologist Harry Harlow.

One of his studies took baby monkeys away from the mothers soon after birth and placed them with “wire” or “cloth” mothers who gave them nourishment (they were able to feed from a bottle hanging on the side of the cage), but no physical touch, and therefore no nurturing.

Some were given nourishment from the wire mother, and others were fed from the cloth mother. The study revealed that even if the wire mother was the only source of nourishment, they would cling more often to the cloth mother, which led to the theory that the need for closeness and affection is more than just nourishment or warmth.

When these baby monkeys became adults, they exhibited strange behavioral patterns, including rocking back and forth. They also had completely abnormal sexual behaviors and misdirected aggression. They often would ignore their own babies until the point where the babies died.

If you take these theories and apply them to humans, the secure individual would be the monkey that was raised by its normal mother and was given food, cuddling, and warmth. Their needs were met in all ways, and they developed into normal functioning monkeys.

However, those monkeys that were taken away from the mothers and given only basic nourishment exhibited odd behaviors and were maladapted. By this theory, those of us who had parents who were present physically, but not emotionally, develop one of two attachment styles.

Of course these styles can run on a continuum, so you can be more of one type than the other. The good news is these behavior patterns can be changed with time and effort and insight.

Secure

Secure individuals attached normally. They do not fear isolation or being away from their partner. They are not jealous or insecure. They are able to reason with their partner when differences arise and feel secure in their relationships.

Over half of the population is considered secure in their attachment style (55-65 percent), and they will be less likely to be on the dating scene because they do not have emotional and internal conflict when dealing with others.

Anxious

Anxious individuals are insecure and distrustful of others. They live in a preoccupied state of push/pull and constantly seek validation from others. They are super sensitive to rejection and can become possessive or clingy causing their partner to push them away thereby reinforcing their distrust.

Anxious individuals usually had parents who were inconsistent in their attention, behaviors, and affection, which is why they are anxious when a partner retreats, as it leads them to feelings of abandonment and fear.

Avoidant

Avoidant individuals do not seek closeness with others. They are emotionally distant with partners and often create a false persona to deal with the world. They are able to shut down their emotions quickly and will be quite ambivalent if you decide to leave them.

Avoidant individuals usually had parents who were non-responsive, dismissive, and rejecting. They make up approximately 20-30 percent of the population.

Unfortunately for the anxious type (as I am), they are often drawn to the avoidant. In general there will be more avoidants in the dating sphere because of their inability to attach, which means they cycle through relationships quickly and are back on the dating scene more than other types.

I once dated an extremely avoidant man. It was exhausting even dating him. But, of course I loved him, and so I bent over backward to make it work. I constantly sought assurance. He constantly refused to give it.

What this relationship taught me was how to calm my anxiousness internally. Since I knew he would never do it, I had to find a way to stop the crazy thoughts in my head, and eventually I did.

There are also ways to learn to cope in a healthier manner if you are dating someone who is anxious or avoidant. A great resource is Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller.

4. Your personality type

Psychologists Myers and Briggs assert that there are sixteen personality types, which encompass all of human kind. However, some types are more prevalent than others.

Knowing which personality type you have helps you to understand yourself and your partner. There are too many types to list here, but I can guarantee if you take the test and read the results, they will be spot on.

Some personality types are a better fit than others, so why not add another tool to your arsenal? For example, studies have shown that extraverted women paired with introverted men are not a good match, and that partners who both share sensing or intuiting will be a better match.

I’m an INFJ, which is the rarest of all personality types. Because of my intuition, I generally need another N (intuition) type, and I would not do well with an S (sensing) type. Generally, I prefer extraverted partners because I like a little balance to my introverted tendencies.

Here is a free version.

I believe that these four things are essential to having a happier, healthier relationship, and knowing them will help you understand yourself and your partner.

If you don’t have a partner, knowing these tidbits of information will help you choose the right partner, not just any partner. The more you know about yourself and what your needs are, the better equipped you are to seek out a good match.

Just remember that even if you don’t find your perfect match the first time, it could be because that person is in your life to teach you something, and let that be okay.

About Carrie L. Burns

Carrie L. Burns is a blogger on a mission of self-discovery. As a sexual abuse survivor that struggled for years with depression anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of self-love, and relationship issues, she found her purpose through writing and sharing her story with others. Check out her other writing at www.acinglife.com.

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  • Matthew Danis

    I just dated someone who is an avoidant and I am anxious. Does the avoident, even realize this is who they are?

  • Carrie Burns

    Matthew-Most likely not. Avoidants are just that–they avoid everything pretty much. Insight, therapy, understanding….they don’t do it on purpose but its a way they create safety for themselves. From what I’ve read…they generally do not seek help or really want to change because they are comfortable (although we cannot fathom that type of comfort) with being the way they are.

  • Nagrom

    I don’t generally comment but this was a really great, well-written article. Definitely gave me some insight and I’ve already ordered the book and did the personality profile. Thank you!

  • Carrie Burns

    Nagrom-I’m glad you enjoyed it! I really wish I knew all these things years ago…might have made my dating life easier….:)

  • Cathy

    What is the process that helped you calm your anxiousness internally?

  • Carrie Burns

    Cathy- Basically I had to just SIT with the anxiety. Then I started to talk to myself and say things like, “its okay” or “this is how he is” or “he’ll text back”. Everything was on his schedule and his time and his needs….which is just about the WORST thing you can do to an anxious person! Over time I had to realize that he was never going to engage in the way that I wanted and I had to accept it and calm myself and my crazy voices in my head trying to seek the constant validation and reassurance. We were also long distance which made it even harder. It has taken me years since then and the break up with my last boyfriend to really stop it all and to love myself enough and understand and accept that no one else can ever calm your fears, insecurities or beliefs about yourself. It isn’t easy….but it can be done. Good luck!

  • Lucas

    Just wow,
    Absolutely loved this article and probably relate a bit too directly.
    I myself am INFP and a mix of avoidant, based on my perception of previous rejection, and anxiously attached from having a single parent being in both roles.

    I found that i am currently trying to work through my anxious attachment as my partner is also anxiously attached and we found that it isn’t beneficial for bettering each other or ourselves to make the most out of life.

    During this transition, Her priority has had to shift to maintain her study load and not fall behind as previously happened. I understand that this means a lot to her and wish i didn’t feel as clingy, i already know she cares but because were also both physical touch and quality time i don’t feel like i’m providing her love, or recharging my own love meter during these heavy study times.

    Thank you for your words and also your reply to Cathy as it does help to know that i have to put my avoidant self away to sit with the feeling to then explore what i’m hoping to achieve by being concerned that i’m not with her.

    Kind Regards,
    A lost boy in a mans body trying to make life work.(and getting there)

  • Cathy

    I am so glad that the response to my question also helped you. Cathy.

  • Cathy

    Thank you Carrie for sharing. The advise you’ve provided I am sure will help me toward a more peaceful internal space with my self. So grateful for the Tiny Buddha in you.

  • Carrie Burns

    I’m so happy to help Cathy. Going through it was not fun and it can still be a struggle at times (finding my voice and standing up for myself)…but I keep trying and we can only move forward and understand and accept that we are doing the best we can.

  • Carrie Burns

    Lucas- Check out my resource page on my blog (www.acinglife.com)…there is a book called Attached (I can’t recall the author at this momen) that gives some advice on dealing with mixed anxious/avoidant relationships and how to communicate better. Trust in her and trust in the relationship and most of all…trust in yourself. Everything works out the way it should…and you’re on the right path!

  • I am happy to say I am moving from an ‘anxious’ attachment style to a ‘secure’ one. My husband and I have our up’s and down’s, but our strength has always been communication. Thanks Carrie for sharing this, it has reinforced the importance of talking and listening to each other (and not at each other)

  • Carrie Burns

    Kate- Good to know! I’m working on it too…It has been a long road, but I’m definitely much further along than I was a few years ago. You are lucky you have partner who listens and cares to communicate. He is probably securely attached and those are the type of partners we should seek out/couple with!

  • LovenoLimit

    I have behaved anxiously and was distrustful in previous relationships but it doesn’t have anything to do with my parents or the fear of being abandoned. It came from dealing with men who was (I later found out) distrustful and didn’t give me anything to feel secure about. Of course at the time I didn’t know or had proof of the dishonesty, but you can feel it in your soul and your heart when someone isn’t being honest with you. My 2nd to last bf left me with a lot of insecurities. Now, I wouldn’t say I carried those insecurities over to the next relationship, (at least not in the beginning), but the insecurities and distrust came into play when my last ex boyfriend starting behaving in ways that was familiar to the distrustful bf before him. Even doe they were completely different individual and nothing alike, he exhibited behavior and actions that caused me to have lots of question. Maybe it was fear of being lied to and played again, but I can feel in my heart he was dishonest. And I’m not the type to need constant reassurance and and constant cheer leading what not. I believe there is a healthy amount of attention, time, affection, intimacy and so forth that should be put into a relationship. I believe in the beginning it’s not uncommon to have some doubts, fear, and questions because you’re just getting to know one another. But As time goes by, there is a way things should progress so that those doubts, fears and questions go away. In my case they seem to grow more. And when they were addressed, of course it caused problems and I was labeled as jealous and insecure. Which I was, but that’s because shit wasn’t making sense and didn’t add up. What was I suppose to do, just ignore it? It’s been almost a year since the break up and what still nags and eats at me is, I’m kinda expecting him to one day say, “Hey. You know, you was right for feeling the way you felt. I was dishonest and not up front with you”. I know I know, completely unrealistic. So I’m still working on going on with life and accepting the apology I know I’LL NEVER GET. Mainly cause he’s a manipulative narcissist with personality disorder.

  • Adeah4

    Who to falling in love adeah happy like to you adeah together him with you boyfriend Ezekiel Baby with together forever u baby feeling happy had so much love yourself Adeah girlfriend.

  • Noon Paravee

    This is excellent article Carrie! May be the reason why I can absolutely related to what you said because I am anxious-attachment style and an INFJ myself…now suffering low self-esteem and depression…. Thank you for writing this, it gave me something to think about 🙂

  • Carrie Burns

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Being an INFJ is certainly a struggle and if you can know it, embrace it and love it you will find a new way to cope with life…..

  • Carrie Burns

    Loveno-The best thing you can do is protect yourself and find your own way and deal with your own securities and you’re right…you won’t get an apology from someone who doesn’t think they have done anything wrong. Good for you to acknowledge it!