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We all have been led to believe that enough love is all it takes to have a healthy relationship.
Well, here is the truth: love is not nearly enough to sustain a healthy intimate relationship. The research clearly bears this out.
Plus, the marriage/divorce figures indicate how wrong we may be about the “value” of love in guaranteeing a healthy relationship.
Every year on average over 2 million marriages take place in the United States. And every year on average, there are over 800,000 divorces. Divorces of people who oftentimes still love each other.
No doubt the vast majority of these marriages started with people being in love, with hopes for life-long companionship.
And, it’s not inconceivable that many that did not last still had some desire for the marriage to go on.
So what is going on here? Love is supposed to be enough, right? We thought love is supposed to overcome everything, right?
Maybe not. In fact clearly not. And recent research gives us a bulls-eye picture of what it really takes to be in a healthy, intimate relationship.
That for most of us, even if we are not yet in a marriage situation, ought to be great news.
So if you really want to build a lasting healthy relationship, read on.
You are going to be pleasantly surprised at what it takes to have a healthy relationship that lasts for a life-time.
And surprise, surprise, it’s not an abundance of love.
Some Characteristics of A Healthy Relationship
What Makes a Healthy Relationship
What are we talking about when we say a healthy relationship? A healthy intimate relationship is simply one where both partners thrive in their individual selves. Where they both find some form of fulfillment in being with and of support to each other.
It is where both can experience the best of themselves as human beings and see the best in each other through their actions and interactions.
Notice we didn’t say anything about love? Does that mean love is not required? No, that would be silly. Love is a key ingredient. However for a relationship to be healthy and long-lasting, it clearly takes something else.
The Chief Component in Having A Long-lasting Relationship
In a study done over 6 years by the The Gottman Institute – an institution devoted to the study of relationships among couples – among the key finding was the importance of kindness and generosity in lasting, healthy relationships.
In fact, kindness and generosity seemed to be the most important ingredient in keeping relationships long and healthy.
But to merely say kindness and generosity is important in maintaining a healthy relationship, would be to woefully understate their importance. Kindness and generosity turned up in long-lasting healthy relationships in different forms that can be easily overlooked.
The Nature of Kindness and Generosity To A Healthy Relationship
One interesting finding from the study mentioned above was the nature of the kindness and generosity that existed in relationships that tended to be more healthy and long-lasting.
Kindness and generosity can take on different forms, such as just giving material gifts. However the type of kindness and generosity that really make an impact in long-lasting relationships are mainly of the intangible type.
These include empathy, being considerate, being courteous, emotional connectedness, selflessness, paying attention to each other, and having a positive attitude towards each other.
So what does this really mean? What does this really boil down to? – That intimate relationships, if they are to be long lasting and satisfying, have to be worked at.
It’s just not enough to love someone mightily. We have to work at these things so that they become commonplace in our relationship.
The Importance of Kindness and Generosity To A Healthy Relationship
A relationship where both partners are healthy and happy there is a higher probability of mutual satisfaction. According to Mayo Clinic, sharing kindness can make you healthier and happier.
Research has demonstrated that kindness and emotional stability is the most important predictor of satisfaction levels in a marriage or a intimate relationship.
Kindness engenders a feeling of being validated, of importance to each other, and a feeling of being cared for lovingly.
The more we experience kindness ourselves, the more likely we will be to be kind to others. This then leads to a generous environment in the relationship that feeds more kindness into it.
Generosity in a relationship sends the message that we are worthy and valued, which in turn creates more motivation to be our best selves towards out partner.
It goes without saying that for a relationship to remain healthy and be long-lasting, it is critical that an environment of trust, appreciation, validation, and appreciation must be present. Kindness and generosity are the most important characteristics in creating this type of relationship environment.
The Do’s of Building A Long-lasting, Healthy Relationship
So we are sure that kindness and generosity play significant roles in determining what makes a healthy relationship. Given that, what are the concrete steps one can take in ensuring that these are sprinkled all over our relationship?
Here are some specific approaches you can adopt in your relationship that will foster kindness and generosity:
Be Kind To Yourself
Kindness starts with being kind to yourself. It doesn’t mean making excuses where none should be made. It means being objectively kind to yourself.
For example, do not be hard on yourself when it makes no sense whatsoever to be hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. You are entitled to your share of mistakes, if it is even to learn and grow.
Learn to laugh at yourself, scold yourself even, but when all is said and done know that you deserve kindness and it starts with you.
And here is a great reason to be nice to yourself – we tend to treat others better when we take care of ourselves.
Express Kindness When It’s Least Expected and Most Impactful
There’s bound to be times of friction in your relationship. These will be the hardest times to practice kindness, but this is fertile ground to sow kindness.
Practicing kindness during times of friction or disagreement can turn potentially disastrous moments into memorable moments.
Seek to purposefully control feelings of disdain or contempt in a conflict. Failure to do so can make the relationship be a place where no one wants to be.
Cultivate A Generous Spirit Towards Your Partner
There are going to be times when for whatever reason, you will not feel very much like engaging. However this may be the very time your partner needs you to engage.
When you deliberately cultivate a generous spirit, it allows you to put aside your own distractions and be able to be there for your partner.
Your partner may want help with a project just at the time you are extremely tired. A generous spirit will make you more inclined to help. Your partner will likely appreciate you more for this and act in kind to you.
Communicate From A Place of Empathy and Understanding
Communicating from empathy and understanding forces us to see another’s point of view or situation before we get overly critical.
There is a big difference between “You know we have to be there on time and yet you have to be late.” and “I really appreciate you trying to look your best, and it does take time, but let’s try to start looking our best earlier next time.”
The first approach is just being critical of someone, the second is even complimentary while getting the main point across in a non-critical manner.
Communicating in this manner, from a place of understanding, reduces friction and build appreciation in the relationship.
Practice Giving The Benefit of The Doubt
Be prepared to give your partner the benefit of the doubt in cases where you have no evidence to the contrary. In fact, be generous about your partner’s intentions.
If you see negativity where there is no evidence you run the risk of framing things thru that negative lens.
For example, your partner may have made a decision and acted on it without first telling you. You may be tempted to think they were just being self-serving or inconsiderate. But maybe your partner just wanted to do something on their own to benefit you both.
Always be prepared to be generous in judging your partner’s intentions rather than thinking the worst. Doing so only creates distrust and frustration.
Share Moments of Achievement In A Joyful Manner
Share moments of achievement with deep interest and mutual joy. Do not make the mistake of being seemingly disinterested in the achievement of your partner.
It is critical to be there for each other when things are not going right, or have gone wrong. But it is equally important to be there for each other when things do go right.
Respond to your partner’s good news with deep interest and joy yourself. Responding otherwise can send the wrong signal in all sorts of ways.
If your partner has just been promoted at work and they share that good news with you, get as excited as they are. Ask about their new job. Ask them how do they feel about the new position. Show interest to indicate that you genuinely share in their joy.
Being in a joyful, healthy relationship is an experience that most humans crave. However, it takes work, and while that is true, we all can have it if we want it enough.
Kindness and generosity are free to all of us. Free to give, and free to receive. We just need to realize how important they are in sustaining the type of joyous relationship we so all desire. And then focus on doing the things that will anchor them in our relationship.
Some Benefits Of Being In A Healthy Relationship
There is little doubt that a healthy relationship environment gives us the potential to bring out the best in us. From growing to be more loving to being more giving, it is in fact an arena for our own personal development. However, it is equally clear that establishing this environment takes more than just love.
This environment takes first and foremost a commitment to generosity and kindness. Yes, love is essential but if we desire a consistency to the good health of our relationship, those two qualities have to be exercised every day.