Clear communication: The goal is that each person clearly communicates what it is they want and/or need from the other person. Neither person expects the other to be a “mind reader” and just know what the other is wanting. I tell couples I counsel that what is “not said” in a relationship is just as important as what is said. By that I mean that things that matter to each person are spoken. What is not said can lead to resentments and emotional disconnect. So a sign of a healthy relationship is that things are put on the table and discussed, no matter how difficult.
Acknowledgement and appreciations: Both parties give acknowledgement of the others contributions: financial, emotional, physical, spiritual to the partnership. It is too easy to get caught up in the day to day mechanics of living and not giving thanks for the efforts that make a life together worth having. I encourage the couples that I see to do a daily Intimacy Exercise which consists of finding a quiet time, usually near bedtime and focus on each other with no other distractions. In that time each partner shares a high point of their day and one or more things that they appreciate about the other. It is a great way to receive and give “positive strokes” which add to a sense of belonging and well-being in the relationship.
Physical connection: Think of the multitude of things that are expressions of affection and connection such as: hand holding, snuggling in bed or on the couch, an arm around the waist as you watch your kids playing or many others. I often say to clients, “Touch is our first language” and it is a primal way of feeling safe, valued and calm. Even after twenty-five years of marriage my wife and I always hold hands when we go for walks.
Shared fun: Whatever that may look like for you because it is important for couples to laugh together! That can look a million different ways anything from enjoying favorite comedies together, taking an improvisation class together, playing board games, etc. This can also involve friends who can be part of an extended family that can include camping trips, communally prepared meals and music circles. Don’t let the tasks involved in being a couple interfere with the “maintenance” that keeps the energetic spark going.
Separate lives: It is natural for new relationships to be focused on the two of you. Over time as your relationship evolves it is important to have separate interests and friends. This is important because part of the spark that keeps us attracted to our mates is finding something new about each other. Ideally this happens in an organic way over time. It is good to have mutual friends or couples to do things with and also good to “follow your own bliss” and bring that passion back to your partner. Men often struggle with having intimate friendships and often base their connections around doing things, which is natural. Those friends can lead to other circles where new people become part of our relationships life as well.
Check ins: It is a sign of a healthy connection to make it a priority to check-in with each other on the state of the relationship. Are each other’s needs being reasonably met? Are their conflicts that are being ignored that need to be addressed? Is an outside professional (a couple’s counselor) who needs to be consulted? It is best to make this a retreat setting by getting away perhaps quarterly and leave the distractions at home and focus on each other. A laptop or old fashioned pen and paper can be used to brain storm the areas that are going well and what might need more attention as you look ahead. It is always nourishing to pause, reflect on the journey you are on together and see how to best tend to your couple-hood.
Terms of Endearment: It is a sign of a healthy relationship to have sweet nick names for each other. These can be private and only shared with the other. It is a way of claiming your partner as a special beloved. The terms can be fun, refer to a quality that is appreciated or just plain silly. As long as the other person likes the nickname any choice will work.