Lifestyle

Are you in a healthy relationship?

Recent months have seen many couples re-think their relationships, for better or worse.

Research by counselling organisation Relate showed that lockdown was a make-or-break time for couples, with one in ten people surveyed saying that they wanted to propose to their partner, while 8% came to the conclusion during lockdown that they need to end their relationship.

Aidan Jones, Chief Executive of Relate, said: “Lockdown has been a powerful reminder that relationships are central to health and wellbeing; they can protect and sustain us in the worst of times. But they are far from immune to the pressures we’re all facing right now. People have had a range of ‘relationship realisations’ over the last few months – some wholly positive and some extremely challenging.”

How can I tell if my relationship will last?

The first thing is to understand what’s really going on – is it a real problem, or simply a side effect of your circumstances? Cheryl Lythgoe, Society Matron at Benenden Health, said: “We all go through cycles in relationships, what you’re feeling now doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something serious happening.”

She has suggested some relationship signs and symptoms you need to pay attention to.

What are the signs of a healthy relationship?

Shared or different goals

Find out whether you and your partner share the same basic view of what you want out of life. If your ambitions are wildly different, it could point to relationship trouble in the future.

“We need to have some shared common goals,” said Cheryl. “For example, if one partner wants six children while the other says they never, ever want kids, then there may be difficulties.”

Communication styles

Effective communication is crucial to any successful relationship. In a relationship, it’s important to understand that this includes listening and non-verbal communication as well as getting your point across.

They right style of communication can help you feel loved and appreciated. We all have different ways of showing someone that we care about them – and yours might not be the same as your other half’s.

You might need to be given gifts or cuddled to feel loved, while they might need quality time together or to hear complements about them before they feel loved.

Your physical health

Through recent upheaval, the routines that you normally followed to maintain good health may have changed. It might sound strange, but this can have a direct impact on your relationship.

Cheryl explained: “Some people have suffered from a physical point of view if they couldn’t get out play sport while others have actually flourished because, for example, they were able to work out more at home.

“Many people use exercise as a really good way of clearing the mind – there’s so much research that shows that that physical exercise is good for the mind and body, also that people do not have that clarity of mind if they have not been exercising.”

Mood changes due to different levels of activity have a knock-on effect on relationships causing tensions and arguments. If this is a problem for you, is there a way to address it?

Coping mechanisms

Everyone copes with ups and downs differently and there have been more challenges and worries than usual recently. Cheryl said: “People have been struggling with a lack of stability about what is normal. There have been frequent changes to the rules and about what things are open or not.”

Many people have concerns about their jobs, which can cause anxiety. A recent survey by the Institute for Employment Studies showed that a fifth of people are worried about job security.

It’s important to understand how you and your partner both respond to stress – whether caused by your relationship or something else. For example, if your usual way to relax is by having a session at the gym, but you can’t do that at the moment, you might be struggling to unwind.

Equally, turning to unhealthy treats or pouring yourself a drink to cope, might have an affect on your relationship. One fifth of respondents to a recent survey admitted to drinking more than usual.

Losing your identity

Worries over job losses are about more than having money to pay the bills. “A lot of people's identity is intertwined with where we sit within our work. Our relationships are also part and parcel of our identity. So, if you're very concerned that you're going to lose your job or you’re on furlough, you may fear you’re losing part of that identity,” said Cheryl.

“This may change either the power structure within the relationship or it could change the confidence within the relationship because you've lost something that's tangible to you.”

How to strengthen your relationship

Identifying potential problem areas is only the first step, it’s also important to understand what you can do to improve your relationship.

Be honest

“The first thing in many areas of health, whether it be physical or mental wellbeing, is open and honest communication,” said Cheryl. “We’re looking at this from a relationship point of view, but you have to start with yourself. If you can’t be honest with yourself, how on earth can you be honest with your partner? Identify what is upsetting you and name the emotion. If it’s frustration, call it that."

Anger is often on show when a relationship is in difficulties, but Cheryl warns that it is important to understand what’s causing the anger. She said: “Anger in relationships is usually secondary emotion to something like fear, anxiety or frustration.

“So, if somebody is getting angry, don't look at the anger, look at what's underpinning that emotion. Be honest with your partner about the driving emotion.”

Choose a time to talk

“Take your time and make sure that it’s when you are not going to be disturbed, when you have some privacy and time to talk openly about your feelings. Try not to do it when you’ve had a long, busy day at work or when you’ve had little sleep,” said Cheryl.

Picking a time for a conversation will also mean you have time to think about what you want to say calmly.

Tackle trouble early

Work on the small irritations as they arise and don’t let them pile up. “Don’t leave it to fester, just have the conversation at the time,” advised Cheryl. “Make a very simple point about it, don’t build up the grievance, don’t embroider or add other issues.”

She believes that if you can work through the small issues when they come up, many of the bigger issues will be less problematic. You will also have an effective habit of communication in place to solve your problems.

“Deal with the daily niggles that come up so that then if you do have something major it can be given true importance for what it is,” she added.

Be a good listener

Actively listening is a key part of good communication. This means not taking what your partner says personally and trying to see things from their perspective. Take time to make sure you’ve understood the issue from their perspective too. Do you really know everything that was going on for them at the time? This knowledge will give you a good basis to negotiate outcomes that make you both happy.

Get relationship help

If you’re a Benenden Health member, remember that you can speak to a professional counsellor about any relationship concerns using the Mental Health Helpline.

There are many other sources of professional relationship help:

Netmums

Relate

Care for the Family

Your GP – whether you need help with your own mental health, or for referral to local counsellors

If you feel unsafe, do not hesitate to contact the National Domestic Abuse helpline: 0808 200 0847