In this handout, you will find several suggestions to help you maintain positive, healthy interpersonal relationships. These suggestions are compiled by Dr. Kelly Campbell and based on research presented in a book called “Intimate Relationships.” The full reference for this book is identified at the end of the handout.
In order to communicate effectively, individuals should use clear and direct messages. One way to do this is by using XYZ statements. These statements involve behavior descriptions and I-statements: “I feel X [feeling] when you do Y [specific behavior] in Z situation [when did it occur, in what context, be specific.’ An example of an XYZ statement is “I felt hurt when you told me the dinner tasted horrible tonight, I felt underappreciated.” It is also important to express admiration and empathy for your partner and to reinforce your partner’s perspective and opinion. This can be done with phrases like “I admired your ability to stay calm when my parents were testing your patience today” and “I understand your point.” Active listening and paraphrasing can also be used to ensure that messages are being clearly communicated. Active listening involves listening to your partner without interrupting and being active by nodding and staying engaged through positive nonverbal cues. Once your partner has finished speaking, you can rephrase what you think they were trying to communicate in your own words and ask if that is what he/she actually meant. Although this sounds simple, it is a very effective way to avoid misunderstandings and de-escalate conflict. In the heat of an argument, it is important to recognize each other’s repair mechanisms and be responsive to them. Sometimes they are difficult to recognize because they are mixed with negativity, but if a partner is trying to make amends, do your best to accept their offer and work towards resolving the conflict. Keep in mind that in healthy and happy relationships, couples have at least 5 positive interactions to every negative interaction (80% positive).
It is important not to disclose too much personal information too early in a relationship. Ideally, partners should mirror each other on how much they self-disclose at beginning of relationship, with each person giving about equal amounts of information to their partner. As time goes on, self-disclosures do not need to be reciprocal. Instead, people who are in long-term relationships should receive support and understanding from their partner after disclosing information. People who disclose too much too early may experience heightened and immediate intimacy with their partner, but conflict and relationship disintegration closely follow. Self-disclosure is essential to building intimacy so it is important to slowly disclose information to your partner and to be understanding, caring, and respectful when a partner discloses information to you. Also, never reveal your partner’s secrets to other people because this will break the bond of trust and intimacy within a relationship.
People enter relationships with beliefs and expectations about how relationships function. These beliefs and expectations are known as schemas and are based on socialization from our family, friends, school, media and other influential sources. Unrealistic beliefs can be particularly detrimental to relationships. Examples of unrealistic or destructive beliefs include: believing that disagreements are harmful to a relationship, believing a partner should be able to mind-read or know how you are feeling without being told, believing that partners cannot change, believing that sex should be perfect every time, believing that men and women are different (e.g., believing that “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”), and believing that good relationships do not take much effort. Unrealistic beliefs and expectations are destructive to intimate relationships because they are associated with dissatisfaction and breakup. Therefore, it is important to recognize that healthy, happy relationships require attention and hard work, and both partners should be committed to putting in the required effort.
The majority of people desire to have equal power in their partnerships. Power involves having control over a valued resource such as money, time, love, and sex, and being able to make decisions in a relationship. When a person is able to provide valued resources to their partner, they have power within that relationship. Even greater power is experienced when a partner is unable to acquire these valued resources from other sources. For example, if a person highly values money and receives this from their partner and is unable to earn their own money or receive money from others, their partner will have complete power in this domain. A person who does not rely on their partner for resources will have more power because they can get valued rewards elsewhere (e.g., they fulfill their own needs, other people are able to fulfill their needs). The partner with the least interest in continuing the relationship also has more power. In an unhealthy relationship, an individual may try to limit their partner’s access to resources, while at the same time maximizing their own resources. In healthy relationships, power is equally shared and partners are comfortable depending on each other for resources and need fulfillment.
The most long lasting relationships are based on shared interests and a strong friendship. These relationships are called companionate and can be contrasted with passionate types. Companionate relationships are characterized by a solid friendship, warmth, understanding, communication, support, sharing, affection, trust, and a firm commitment from both partners to make the relationship work. Passionate relationships are characterized by physical arousal, attraction, desire, and lust. Although these relationships are often more exciting, passion is one of the most unstable emotions and this type of relationship can often feel like being on a roller-coaster ride. Relationships based on passion typically do not last because it is difficult to sustain passion over the long-term. Relationships based on companionate love are the most stable, long-lasting, and happy. In order to insert passion into companionate unions, partners are advised to engage in novel activities together. Doing new, exciting, spontaneous activities that both partners enjoy will augment the passion in their relationship (the excitement from outside the bedroom transfers into it!).
The information in this document is derived from research studies reported in the following book: Miller, R. S. (2018). Intimate Relationships (8th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.