Growing a Happy Healthy Relationship

When couples decide on counselling therapy their relationship is often in a difficult state. Some of the couples that come for therapy do so when there has been so much unresolved conflict that it’s difficult to figure out where it all began. However, being proactive with couples counselling can often identify issues before they become too critical. Either way, therapy can be a useful endeavor towards the success, longevity, and health of a relationship.

While pop culture encourages single people to couple up to experience “real happiness”, not all couples are experiencing the promised enjoyment that is reflected in social media.  Most Canadians between the ages of 25 to 64 are married or live common law, according to Statistics Canada in 2019. In 2020 six percent of e couples became separated or divorced; 8% of those couples are from common law unions and 38% from marriages. Currently the average marriage lasts 14 years.

So, whether couples decide on marriage or living common law the intention is to live a happy and fulfilling life, and to share that with our significant other. How do we ensure that our efforts are contributing in a healthy way and to the best of our abilities? For starters, it’s recommended that couples are engaged in a healthy friendship. That means being attracted to people who have shared ideas about the present and future as well as having some shared goals that the couple work toward. In doing so it creates meaning and intimacy that will, as a result, be enjoyed by both partners over time.

In addition, the way we communicate when things become difficult can predict the success of a relationship. Are we prone to shutting down or becoming defensive? Do we need to control the situation?

Being a skilled communicator involves a few steps:

  1. Setting a time that works for both parties.
  2. The discussion takes place in privacy with no distractions.
  3. Use “I” statements and only share bits of information at a time to allow the listener to follow.
  4. Check in with the listener to ensure their understanding of what you’re trying to say.
  5. If you’re the listener, share back only what you’ve heard and nothing else. (No opinions or advice)
  6. Check to see if there is more to be shared. Etc. etc.

At the conclusion of the information the listener will validate and empathise with the initiator, taking care to be curious and respectful. This last step is exceptionally important because when we do this, we create trust and respect in the relationship.

In conclusion, healthy communication is the first step toward learning how to manage conflict in any relationship. If your relationship needs a tune-up to keep things going smoothly “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman, PH. D is a good resource for couples wanting to improve their relationship. If you prefer the help of a therapist, find one that is trained in working with couples. There are several approaches a therapist can take when doing couples work. One is the Gottman Method, focusing on communication skills and conflict management. Another is Emotion Focused Therapy, which uses tools to bring awareness to the attachment-based emotions underpinning behaviours. Talk to potential therapists to see what approach would work best for you.

Kim Kisyel, BSW MACP RCC
Walmsley EFAP