Couples Therapists Reveal the Ingredients that Make the Biggest Impact on Your Relationship
When prospective clients call couples therapist Julia Nowland, they say they need help with communication. Because, they say, once they learn to communicate, their disagreements will finally diminish.
How we communicate is critical to our closeness. However, the most important ingredient in a happy, healthy relationship, according to Nowland, is … you.
“You can learn all the communication skills in the world but if you’re not willing to put them into practice when the emotions are running high, or you’re tired, or your GPS isn’t working and you’re lost on a country road with no one in sight and the kids are having a tantrum in the back seat. Then you will find yourself using the same old patterns of relating to each other.”
The key, Nowland said, lies in being available, responsive, flexible and sensitive. For instance, being available goes beyond being around. “It’s about sitting and facing your partner when talking about important topics.” Being sensitive is about “thinking through how your words and actions will impact your partner.”
Psychotherapist and relationship specialist Anna Osborn, LMFT, believes that the most important ingredient is gratitude. “When we’re authentically appreciative of one another, we feel like not only do the little things matter, but they’re valued and noticed.” When gratitude is present in a partnership, there’s a natural pull toward each other, she said. There’s a sense that you’re on the same team.
A regular gratitude practice isn’t complicated. As Osborn said, “It can be as little as ‘thank you for your help with getting the kids ready this morning’ or ‘I appreciate you going grocery shopping today; it was helpful.’”
According to Clinton Power, a clinical relationship counsellor and founder of Clinton Power + Associates, the most important ingredient is resolving conflict quickly and constructively. A common assumption is that happy, healthy couples don’t fight—and that in order to have a great relationship, we need to eradicate all conflict. But that’s not true.
“In fact, I actually worry about couples that say to me they never fight,” Power said. “These are the couples that are often so conflict-avoidant, they bury the first signs of any issue or friction between them. And these are the couples that spontaneously divorce after 20 years of a seemingly ‘happy marriage.’”