David Richo’s book, How to be An Adult in Relationships, discusses the five key elements of healthy relationships.
They are called “the five A s” and are:
- Attention: This is about giving your focused attention to your partner. It gives them a sense that they are important and in those moments, your highest priority. You are making them your highest priority and now allowing anything to distract you from listening fully totheir thoughts, wants and feelings. It has been said that to know what a person values by looking at what they pay attention to. Is it the TV? their hobbies? Or the people nearest to them? Part of knowing that we are valued is having our beloved give us their full attention. Not all the time but especially when we most need it: At the end of a difficult day, when we have had an “aha” moment or feel good about an accomplishment.
- Acceptance: This is about being accepted in our totality. Being accepted for all our feelings, personality traits and quirks. It is the experience of being loved, at least in that moment, unconditionally. You experience none of the sense that “I’ll love you when you stop being so angry, sad, anxious.” You can give and get the experience of being accepted for who you are, where you are. It is easy to feel judgmental of our partner and there is truth in the old expression, “familiarity breeds contempt.” This is about getting to a place where we let go of needing our partner to be a certain way and accept them, flaws and all. This acceptance creates a sense of safety: Safe to be who we are and not experience judgement or shame.
- Appreciation: It is essential to hear and feel appreciation from our partners. In fact, it is one of the key elements that sustains a relationship. Dr. John Gottman, the relationship expert and author, has written that for every complaint or criticism that occurs we need five appreciations to balance it out. When we are feeling upset or angry it is often tied to feeling unappreciated. Appreciations can take many forms including acknowledgement of our talents, skills and being noticed when we are thoughtful of our partner.
- Affection: Affection can be expressed in words and it can be expressed with hugs, kisses or holding hands. It is expressed with actions like bringing home flowers, completing a home project or speaking up for the other when they are overwhelmed and unable to do it for themselves. When I am working with couples that are feeling distant I encourage them to do one minute hugs. They always report they feel reconnected and warmed by their shared affection.
- Allowing: When we allow the other person to be themselves, accept them and allow them to live their lives without a desire to control or manipulate them our relationship prospers. Sometimes the allowing is for them to have the space they need and be away from us. Giving them the space to explore other interests or friendships is a gift so that they return with more to share with us. When we allow, we are trusting the other and giving them our support to be their best selves. We are not expecting them to be with us, and only us.
In conclusion, we create a healthy relationship when we give our partner the five A s. Love grows in that space of attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing.