Lawrence E. Kincade, Ph.D., LCSW > Principles of a Healthy Relationship


No marriage is perfect, as no individuals are perfect.  What might you think is the biggest thing that keeps a relationship healthy and, for the most part, happy?........A deep and lasting friendship based on respect.  The better the friendship, the more enduring the marriage.

Know your partner:  Gottman refers to this as "enhancing your love maps."  (See Love Maps Questionnaire).  Do you know the name of your partner's best friend?  Do you know his or her hobbies?  Do you know his or her secret hopes and fears?  Having detailed knowledge of each other keeps you connected.  It is also helpful in adapting to change in a relationship.

Remember and nurture what you admire about your partner:  According to Gottman, 94% of couples who think of their relationship history as positive are likely to have a happy future.  Remind yourself of your partner's good qualities, in spite of his or her flaws.  What do you cherish about your partner?  (See Marriage/Relationship Awareness Tool). 

Turn toward one another:  While it does not necessarily mean buying flowers for your spouse everday, it does mean connecting and letting your partner know he or she is valued during the course of everyday life.  For example, a couple can connect in a meaningful way at the grocery store, or while doing the laundry.  It might entail remembering your partner has had a difficult meeting and calling to check-in to see how it went.  It's thinking about your partner when they are not with you and attending to their emotional needs.

Let your partner influence you:  This doesn't mean doing any and everything your partner says or suggests.  Gottman's research shows that men usually have a more difficult time accepting influence from their wives than vice versa.  He found the happiest couples were the ones who shared the power and decision-making. This does not mean you never have an argument or negative feelings. It does mean, however, when you consider you partner's opinion, there is more room for compromise.  Accepting influences is the hallmark of honoring and respecting your partner.

Solve the solvable problems:  According to Dan Wile, author of After the Honeymoon, selecting a partner means choosing a set of particular problems.  Believe it or not, you don't have to solve all the problems for your relationship to survive.  Start with the ones that are situational and straightforward, where compromise may be fairly simple.  Some hints to solving conflict effectively are:

  • soften your approach
  • put the brakes on when you sense a conversation is getting "heated."
  • know how to calm yourself and your spouse (a sense of humor, not sarcasm, can be helpful)
  • compromise
  • be tolerant of each other's faults (ask yourself does this really matter?)

Overcome gridlock:  These are the sticky issues:  the ones that may symbolize our deepest fears or threaten us in some way.  Ask yourself:  Why is this issue so important to me?  Try to dialogue with your partner about it.  Even if the problem doesn't get solved right away, talking about our fears and hopes has a way of creating more understanding and diffusing conflict.  The key may not be to solve the problem, but to come to a better understanding of one another, so you can live with it peacefully.

Create shared meaning:  This entails creating a culture in the relationship where each person can talk honestly about his or her beliefs and convictions.  Do you have your own rituals?  (e.g., Thursday night is family meeting night).  Do you have a clear appreciation of the goals that link the two of you together?  Couples who do this can find a way to understand one another's dreams, even if they don't share all of them in common.