Experts say there are 4 predictable stages in a dating relationship. The first is the meeting and attraction stage followed by the curiosity stage where you’re both learning about each other. In the curiosity stage, you’re still on your best behavior, are preoccupied with superficial things like physical appearances and you’re getting it on all the time. Everything is great. About 3-4 months into the relationship, you consider whether it is going anywhere.
If you decide it might, you move on to the 3rd and 4th stages. The third stage, the Stage of Enlightenment is when your hormones have calmed down and reality starts to set in. We all know what that’s like.
It’s in the fourth stage, the Stage of Commitment, that things start to get real and when we do some critical thinking. This is when you begin to have honest conversations and start planning a future. Let that planning include how to build a lasting relationship. Because if you plan it, you’re more likely to create it.
What to look for in a committed relationship
There are qualities to look for in a partner as you decide whether this person is right for you. Certain qualities increase the chances that the relationship will be healthy (emotional maturity, honesty, etc.). Then there are those qualities that are important to you as a person. Are you looking for a best friend? Will you only respect a go-getter or is something else important to you?
It’s important to know your needs and that you consider whether this person is in a place to give it to you. For example, support is extremely important to me. I rely on my partner for emotional support. I’m now much better at figuring out whether a guy is in a place to give it to me. In the early stages of a relationship, I’m considering: Does he work 80-hour weeks? Is he open and available? Does he laugh easily? Your needs may be different. You’re may be ready to have children, or don’t want any. In that case, you would be looking for signs he’s stable and finding out whether your timelines match.
Steps to building a healthy relationship
Let’s assume you are compatible and a good match. A relationship coach can be extremely helpful to you in a number of ways. They can identify old patterns you need to work on individually. They can help you define what’s important to both of you, help you create a healthy communication style, and learn strategies for relationship success. A relationship coach can help you build a healthy relationship with the following steps:
- Know why you want a healthy relationship
- Make sure your partner will commit to the process with you
- Learn communication tools to help you
- Set the intention for what a healthy relationship will look like
- Maintain the relationship
Let’s look at each of these steps a little closer.
1. Know why you want a healthy relationship
We know from scientific data that one of the biggest energy-drainers out there are toxic relationships, and the worst of these show up in our intimate life. A toxic relationship can shake our confidence big time, can be financially and emotionally devastating and if it ends terribly, it can keep us stuck for a long time.
A healthy relationship, on the other hand, can do the opposite and help us grow in many areas of our life. That is what we’re after and the first step in this process is knowing why it matters to you. Having support matters to me because I tend to only trust people I see daily with my shit.
After my toxic marriage, which lasted nine years (not all of which were bad) my self-esteem was crushed. I gave up embryos and my last chance to have children. I lost tens of thousands of dollars and went through a divorce that wiped me out emotionally. The experience wasn’t all bad because it helped me figure out why a healthy relationship was so important to me. It helped me lose my blinders and immature habit of giving others the benefit of doubt when their behavior didn’t merit it.
Healthy relationships matter to me not because of what I want to avoid, but because I really value honesty and need a certain type of support (and a few other things, but we start there). Why does it really matter to you?
2. Make sure your partner wants a healthy relationship too
You know the saying, it takes two to tango. Well, it takes two to have a healthy relationship too. For some guys, this is a foreign concept and I’m not going to lie, it might make your wait for a healthy relationship longer, and I’m certainly not going to judge you for some missteps.
3. Learn helpful communication tools
Poor communication habits from your past will follow you if you don’t have better communication tools and work to unlearn old habits. You might be the type of person who takes everything personally, feel you must call out a guy every time he leaves the toilet seat up (you have to train men, don’t you know), or you want him to read your mind. Maybe he’s the poor communicator and you need tools to help you—he doesn’t text/call when he’s going to be late and he’s surly when he’s mad about something instead of letting you know what’s up.
There is a lot that an expert can teach two committed people to help you build good communication skills from the start. If coaching is not an option, a book about emotional intelligence for couples will be helpful. Early in the relationship is the best time to learn to set individual egos aside, how to communicate clearly and honestly and how to win by listening.
The book, I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael Sorensen is a great read to learn simple and very helpful communication skills for all your relationships.
4. Set the intention for your relationship
It’s not enough to want a successful relationship. Without real intention behind it, you won’t build it. A good coach can listen to you both describe what’s important to you as individuals and find where your priorities meet. That place of intersection is where you find your couple’s goals. It should be the center (heart) of your relationship and where you both need to focus. I can’t tell you what percentage of your individual priorities should be shared ones but for a lasting relationship, I imagine the percentage should be high or at least proportionate to how important those things are to you both.
If real intimacy is a priority for me and my partner, we will, for example, decide we will go on at least one big trip every year, have weekly date nights, share a sport, be affectionate on the regular, never storm out the room during an argument, and we might make kindness a rule in our relationship. What I’ve learned is that fighting isn’t a problem per so (unless it’s frequent and about dumb shit), but hitting below the belt should be off limits. After being called fat by my ex at 35 pounds (and a look to go with the disgust), a certain line was crossed that we never recovered from.
5. Maintain your relationship
Personally, I bristle at the idea that relationships are hard work. It’s a matter of perspective. If you’re committed, if you like each other and you are a fair person, I don’t see how the things it takes to make a relationship work is hard work at all. For some people, being there for another person through difficult times is seen as some type of sacrifice but since life will have its ups and downs whether you’re single or part of a relationship, I consider it an honor to help my partner through trying times. It’s what makes you a family.
My definition of a healthy relationship may differ from yours. For me, the most important need is making time for each with regular date nights, everyday thoughtfulness, and giving each other the care and nourishment you need. Whatever your definition and the intentions you set, maintaining the relationship is about doing the things that keep the values of the relationship alive, and doing them with a happy heart.
Recommended relationship books
Ultimately, a healthy relationship starts with the one we have with ourselves so if you’re single, use the time to work on you.