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What makes a relationship / marriage work?

By Dr Marcel de Roos, Psychologist PhD, the Netherlands

One of the most complicated things for two people is to learn how to live together. Each has their own personality, values and personal history. It takes a lot of communicating and adjusting to find a balance. Here are a few tips:

Have healthy fights.

When you’re in a relationship, it doesn’t mean that you can say everything at any moment to your partner. Refrain from using swear words or expressions that can be potentially hurtful. Don’t spit out your annoyances or your craving for attention. Choose a moment to have a meaningful chat with each other. It sounds very commonsense but often you’re too occupied or you feel too bottled up. Try not only to talk about functional matters like children, finances, work, and etc. but also about your personal feelings.

According to the attachment-theory, relationships are based upon an emotional connection. When this connection is threatened we get upset and the well known coping mechanisms fight (engaging in a conflict), flight (avoiding a conflict) or freeze (become silent) pop up. It can be helpful to realise this when for example your partner accuses you that you’re prioritising your work. In a deeper sense it’s not an accusation but a fear of losing connection.

Sex is more than foreplay.

Foreplay means more than straight away starting to stimulate the vaginal area and clitoris. There is a whole body that can be pampered! Often it’s much more erotic NOT to begin with the genitals and breasts. It can start during the day with flirting, teasing and pleasing and eventually leading up to the bedroom. Important is a loving, sensual and exciting attention for each other and trying to be creative. Communicating is essential; let your partner know what you like and what you don’t like! Be affectionate and caring outside the bedroom too. Plan to make time for each other and keep your promises.

Be assertive.

It’s important to be egoistic in a healthy way. When you adapt too much to the wishes of your partner then you will make his life easier, but in the long run it’s toxic. You have to be aware of what YOUR needs are. Don’t expect that your partner can read your mind. In a relationship you continue to be your own person and you have to be assertive. You need to be able to negotiate about annoyances and wishes. You can’t wait until your partner gets a light flash and understands what you want.

Furthermore, have lots of physical activity, a healthy lifestyle, be passionate in your life and be aware of the difference in “wiring” between men and women (for example men tend to come with “solutions” while women often know the answers but just want to share their feelings and want their partner to listen to them).

The importance of having a good relationship was also highlighted in the famous Harvard Study of Adult Development. This study began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938 and the researchers hoped that the longitudinal study would reveal the clues to leading healthy and happy lives. It proved that having good relationships helps us to live a longer and healthier life.

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