The support of a partner can provide a key boost to your overall health. A survey of over 125,000 adults found that married men are healthier than those who have never married or those whose relationships have ended. The study also found that men with long term partners live longer. Being in a close, healthy relationship can also provide you with another layer of support to help combat stress and depression. But unless our parents or close family members have modelled one, some of us have never seen a healthy relationship up close, making it difficult to know what to strive for.
Here are some tenets of a healthy relationship:
Open and honest communication
When you have a concern, you feel free to bring it up without the fear of being ignored or dismissed.
Intimacy and closeness
You should feel safe and connected with your partner.
Trust and have faith in each other
You shouldn’t have to worry about the other person lying or cheating.
Equality and mutual respect
You shouldn’t feel like you’re in a game of tug of war for who has control, or that you have to concede all your wants and needs.
Now, that we’ve clarified what we’re striving for, here are some tips to improve and maintain a romantic relationship – and likewise improve your mental health.
IDENTIFY EACH OTHERS’ NEEDS
Think about what you want from a relationship, and be aware of your own boundaries and expectations.
You likely won’t be able to fill all of each other’s needs – and that’s okay. Find a balance with some needs met outside of your relationship, through your family, friends, mentors, etc.
BE OPEN AND HONEST
Relationships deepen when we share with each other. Be open with your partner about all aspects of yourself, not just your dreams and successes, but your fears and failures as well.
Taking off your armour, and sharing the things you fee vulnerable about (when the time is right) shows your partner you trust them.
If you’re feeling stressed about something, muster the strength to sit down with your partner and have a serious talk about how you’re feeling. It can be tough, but having an open dialogue is essential. You can start by saying you “Can I talk to you about something?” so your partner is prepared to listen.
If you’re willing to open up, your partner will feel more comfortable doing so as well.
BUILD A FOUNDATION OF TRUST
Building trust takes time. Try not to lie to your partner or purposefully deceive them, especially when you know it will hurt your relationship further down the road.Making empty promises to appease your partner in the moment, while knowing you won’t act on them, will make things worse in the long run.
MAKE TIME TO LAUGH
Not everything in a relationship needs to be serious. Be playful with your partner, and learn to laugh with them the way you do with your closest friends. Try watching a funny show or movie, or find a stand up comedian you both enjoy and watch some of their specials.
MAKE TIME FOR CONVERSATION
Life gets busy, and if you don’t make time to focus on your partner you can easily lose touch with what’s happening in their life.
If you have conflicting schedules, plan time to catch up.
For eg. instead of eating dinner while you work or watch tv, have dinner together and talk about your respective days.
Make yourself available for conversation, even if it’s about mundane day-to-day things.
For eg. If you always have your headphones on, try taking them off so your partner can start a conversation more easily.
Everyone wants to feel heard and understood, so it’s crucial that you be someone that your partner can confide in when they are stressed or facing a challenge. Being emotionally available may seem scary at first, but there is nothing more fulfilling than being in a relationship where you feel free to be yourself without fear of rejection or judgement – you want to be the person they turn to for support.
When talking with your partner, instead of thinking of advice or trying to problem solve for them, listen intently to really get an understanding of the issue from their perspective.
BE CLEAR WHEN COMMUNICATING
Try to avoid a more passive or aggressive approach when communicating with your partner. Work on communicating what you want, without placing blame or focusing on negatives.
For eg. Jeff is upset with his partner Andrew, as Jeff keeps having to pick up the bill when they order food. Instead of continuing to do this, while not mentioning it and slowly building up more resentment, Jeff could say something like “We both like trying different kinds of take-out, but I feel like I’ve been paying for our food more often. Can we try to alternate from now on?”
Another eg. Matt is frustrated because his partner Amy has not been keeping up with her share of household chores. Instead of saying, “You never clean up after yourself,” which is likely to make Amy feel defensive, Matt can begin by saying, “I feel like I’ve been doing majority of the cleaning lately and I want us to figure out a way to make things feel more balanced”.
No relationship is perfect, and eventually some conflict arises. If you get into a contested discussion, remember that the goal is to negotiate and come to a mutual understanding or agreement – not just to argue. It’s natural to want to interrupt someone when they say something you may disagree with. But this approach more often than not worsens tensions, and prevents you from truly hearing what your partner is trying to say. Try to fully understand the problem from their side, before formulating a response – make sure to ask questions and don’t make any assumptions.
Determine what is and what is not negotiable for you, and pick your battles accordingly. Remember that at the end of the day, you’re a team, so act as a team when making decisions that affect both of you.
Try to focus on actionable steps you can both take to remedy conflicts, instead of falling into the trap of pointing out each other’s shortcomings.
LEARN TO COMPROMISE
One of the biggest benefits of being in a relationship is knowing that you have each other’s backs. Both giving and receiving is important for developing any lasting relationship. You and your partner likely bring different experiences, skills, strengths, and weaknesses to the table, so you might be giving or receiving more, depending on the situation. But if you find yourself always giving, or always receiving, it’s important to check in with yourself and your partner about needs and expectations. Keep in mind that being in a relationship requires a certain level of sacrifice, you can’t have things your way all of the time.
ALWAYS SHOW RESPECT
The more intimate your relationship is, the more important it is to show your partner respect. Even in heated moments, try to keep a minimum level of respect (this could be eliminating name-calling, swearing, or personal attacks).
Pay attention to your tone, your body language, and facial expressions. For eg. some guys may raise their voice, without realizing.
If you need to take a break to cool off, do so, and pick up the conversation when you are feeling more even-keeled.
Try taking a deep breath to calm yourself and practicing our stress management techniques.
There is a difference between criticizing something your partner has said or done, and criticizing your partner for who they are. Make sure that when you disagree on things, your partner knows that you still value them.
It’s easy to take what you have for granted and this can leave your partner feeling left out or ignored. Offering the occasional compliment to your partner take doesn’t a lot of effort and can go a long way. Simple things like holding hands, hugging, or a gentle caress on the back are helpful ways to let your partner know that you care for them. Not only do these actions improve the bond with your partner, they also release brain chemicals that can help improve your mood.
LET YOUR PARTNER KNOW IF YOU ARE HAVING DIFFICULTIES WITH SEX
Mental health challenges like stress, anxiety, and depression, can be accompanied by different sex-related issues (loss of sexual desire, pre-mature ejaculation, loss of ability to have an erection or an orgasm). Whatever the reason, if you are experiencing any of these issues, try not to blame yourself – it happens to more guys than you think. If you haven’t already, make an appointment with your doctor to let them know what’s going on and explore your options and possible causes – there are often lifestyle and stress management changes you can work on before turning to medication. It’s important to keep your partner tuned in to what’s going on, otherwise, you risk having your partner think that you’ve lost interest in them. If your level of sexual desire or needs are different from your partner’s, talk about it and work to find a compromise you’re both comfortable with. Having these conversations in a private setting outside of the bedroom (when you have more time to think) will help the conversation go more smoothly. Look at the big picture and remember that intimacy doesn’t have to include sex, and that sex doesn’t necessarily mean intercourse kisses, hugs, sensual touch, and intimate talk, are all part of good sex.
REMEMBER DETAILS ABOUT EACH OTHER’S LIVES
To show how much you care about your partner, try to remember things that are important to them.
Plan ahead for important dates and anniversaries so that they can be memorable for both of you. View them as a chance to show your partner how special they are.
CREATE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
Your relationship and your partner are a big part of your life, but they are not all of it. Create healthy boundaries so that at the end of the day, you still feel like your own individual. Find time to enjoy things you like, especially hobbies and interests your partner doesn’t enjoy, on your own.
Put effort into maintaining other friendships. It’s important to stay connected to those you care about, even if they aren’t in your partner’s social circle.
If you’re uncomfortable with any aspect of your relationship, consider if you need to re-evaluate your boundaries, and talk about it with your partner.
ADAPT AND GROW TOGETHER
Try not to let things get stale, keep making plans, and trying new things together. Keep in mind that our needs and desires do change over time, what we want now will likely be different in a few years. Make sure to check in with your partner as your relationship grows. One big change that a lot of relationships go through is if/when you decide to have a child. See our post on managing your mental health as a new dad for tips on that. Healthy relationships are flexible and can adapt to new life circumstances and challenges. Every challenge presents an opportunity to work as a team and lean on each other.
TRY OUT PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT
If you’re having trouble with your relationship, or you notice unhealthy patterns repeating themselves, consider talk therapy. It’s a great way to get more objective insights into your relationship, so you can work on them together. There are therapists who specialize in marriage and family therapy, or sex therapy. And you don’t need to be facing a major conflict to go to couples’ therapy it can also be beneficial to learn how to cope with challenges before they arise.