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4 Ways to Cultivate Happy & Healthy Relationships

Day four is finally here, and you may be thinking of new possible resolutions to start the year off with a bang. This past weekend, I did some social research by asking everyone I possibly could about their resolutions for the coming year. One of the most common things I heard was that they wanted to have healthier happier relationships. Toxic relationships can take a toll on our health and well-being, while supportive social relations boost our immune system. My new year’s resolution is to be more contingent on who, what, and why I say ‘yes’ so that I can bring out the best in my relationships! Here are four ways you can cultivate healthy, supportive relationships with your friends, partners, and family:

1. Be Supportive

Shelly Gable, Ph.D. of the University of California in Santa Barbara studies romantic relationships and love. She found that how partners respond to each other when things go right is predictive of the overall quality of the relationship. Her research team brought couples into the lab and coded how the partners responded to each other’s good news. The researchers grouped responses into four different communicative styles: active-constructive, active-destructive, passive-constructive, and passive-destructive. Being an active-constructive partner was linked to higher relationship quality.

Let’s say that your partner just got a new promotion. An active-constructive partner would say, “That’s great! I’m so happy for you! When do you start?” The active-constructive partner takes a genuine interest in your joy. A passive-destructive partner would completely ignore the statement, turn the conversation around and say, “I just got a new car!”. A passive-constructive partner would say, “That’s great!” while maybe simultaneously texting their friend. Finally, an active-destructive partner might say, “That sounds like a lot of work, do you think you can take on the responsibility?”.

Gable followed up with couples two months later and found that what set most couples apart was being an active-constructive partner. Individuals that mastered this communicative style were still together after their interview, experienced more intimacy, and had the highest relationship quality. Being an active-constructive partner need not only apply to our romantic relationships, but it also extends to our friendships, co-workers, and family.

You can check out more of her research on close relationships here.

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2. Cultivate a healthy passion together

One way to increase mutual attraction is by joining your partner on a hobby that you would both enjoy. Doing exhilarating activities together has been shown to increase mutual attraction and build intimacy. Voluntary activities let us bond with our partner while also maintaining our own identity which makes for a more mature relationship. This sense of trust and personal identity allows for individuals within a relationship to pursue their own interests without excessive attachment to the other person.

Arthur Aron, Ph.D. completed a study that found those who are most intensely in love who feel a strong romantic connection engage in self-expanding joint activities that are novel and challenging. How you choose to spend your time with your partner is important so pick new, exciting activities that challenge you to grow.

3. Express Gratitude

Numerous happiness studies have shown that gratitude is the number one predictor of happiness and is also a strong predictor of the quality of our relationships. Saying thank you to our friends and loved ones can help release more oxytocin to strengthen our social bonds. By making them feel valued and appreciated.

4. Put your phone away

Unless you have something to show someone, please put your phone away. Phubbing has become a popular term to describe when someone chooses to be on their phone as opposed to engaging with the people around them. One of the greatest gifts we give to our relationships is our attention. Giving people our full attention makes people feel that they are truly present with us and are engaged with the moment. Partner phubbing is associated with lower relationship satisfaction and a higher rate of depression. Phone users are seen as rude and make others feel unheard, invalidated, and disregarded. So please put your phone away becomes it becomes a distraction from having a real, authentic connection with someone else. When we are on the phone while we are having a conversation, we miss out on the nuances of people’s nonverbal behavior that give us a greater understanding what they are communicating.

One of the ways that we experience love or connection is the vagus nerve which connects our brain to our heart. The vagus nerve stimulates minute facial muscles to make you better eye contact, the most intimate form of connection and behaviorally mirror one another’s facial expressions. This also stimulates your middle ear so that you can hear your loved one against other noise. Being distracted with our phones, work, or stress can keep us from connecting with the people around us.

For more articles on improving relationships click here.

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Kaitlin Lehmann, M.A. Psychology
Kaitlin Lehmann, M.A. Psychology

My name is Kaitlin and I graduated from Wagner College with a BA in Psychology with minors in German and Education. I then completed my Master’s degree in Experimental Psychology at American University where I was a research assistant using eye-tracking to examine facial emotion recognition, borderline personality features, and pharmaceutical advertising. I currently live in Philadelphia working as a Clinical Trial Coordinator for patients with osteoarthritis and am interested in individual differences such as emotion dysregulation that predict physical outcomes such as a pain. In my free time, I enjoy running, stand-up comedy, and hiking with my dog, Millie.

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