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How to have a healthy relationship, in 6 easy steps

Posted July 16

Your relationship may be making you sick.

A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that people who are in unhappy relationships tend to have more health issues than those who are in happier and high-quality relationships.

These negative health effects only increase as those bad relationships last.

"Health benefits begin to accrue relatively quickly with high-quality relationships and supportive contexts," Ashley Barr, assistant professor in the University at Buffalo's Department of Sociology, said in a statement. "And then we see detrimental effects from low-quality relationships — particularly, those low-quality relationships that last a long time."

For this study, Barr and her researchers looked at the relationship satisfaction for white youths who had two parents who were married and came from the rural areas of Iowa. They looked at relationship satisfaction, how supported each person felt by their partner and the level of commitment in the relationship. Similar to a previous study Barr had done, the researchers found that bad relationships can make people suffer from alcohol problems, depression and a decrease in general health.

Overall, they found those who were in high-quality relationships saw benefits last a long time.

"We took into account satisfaction, partner hostility, questions about criticism, support, kindness, affection and commitment," Barr said. "We also asked about how partners behave outside of the relationship. Do they engage in deviant behaviors? Is there general anti-sociality?"

She also said that it’s actually better for people’s health to be single than to be in a relationship with poor satisfaction.

Research has shown that relationships, especially stressful ones, tend to create health issues for partners, according to LiveScience. For example, relationships that include a lot of “hostility and criticism” during conflicts tend to actually affect a partner’s mental health.

Bad relationships also affect physical health, giving partners issues like “a higher risk of high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglycerides and low levels of ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein cholesterol,” LiveScience reported.

But previous research has also indicated that happier relationships tend to provide positive health results. A 2014 study from the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that couples who are in relationships where their partner is optimistic tend to be happier and, over time, healthier.

More optimistic partners tended to have better physical capabilities and fewer chronic illnesses. And those effects didn’t change over time, the study said.

“Being optimistic and having an optimistic spouse were both associated with better health. Examining partner effects is important because such analyses reveal the unique role that spouses play in promoting health,” according to the study.

Of course, keeping your relationship happy and optimistic may not be the easiest thing to do. To help, we’ve outlined six different relationship secrets that couples can follow to keep their relationship happy, optimistic and healthy.

1. Form a realistic view

Psychotherapist Maud Purcell of Psych Central spoke to a host of couples about their relationship secrets and found that developing a realistic view of what it means to be in a committed relationship can really help couples stay happy.

“Recognize that the crazy infatuation you experienced when your romance was new won’t last,” Purcell wrote. “A deeper, richer relationship, and one that should still include romance, will replace it. A long-term relationship has ups and downs, and expecting it will be all sunny and roses all the time is unrealistic.”

2. Spend some time together

This one should go without saying, but quality time is important for couples, especialy in an age where relationships are failing because partners are phubbing (snubbing each other with their smartphones).

Participating in an activity can help the relationship remain rich and strong, Purcell wrote.

“When you make a point of being together, without kids, pets and other interruptions, you will form a bond that will get you through life’s rough spots,” according to Purcell. "Time spent together should be doing a shared activity, not just watching television.”

3. Save for some solo time

Yes, it makes sense to spend a lot of quality time together. But Purcell also recommends that couples make room for “separateness” — which includes having unique hobbies and interests so that their partner isn’t involved in everything their spouse does.

“It is healthy to have some separate interests and activities and to come back to the relationship refreshed and ready to share your experiences,” Purcell wrote. “Missing your partner helps remind you how important he or she is to you.”

4. Talk openly

Though a recent study says communication can hurt a relationship, the American Psychological Association suggests that couples communicate openly to keep their relationship strong. This includes checking in with each other regularly, as well as discussing some deeper topics that will round out your relationship.

“Try to spend a few minutes each day discussing deeper or more personal subjects to stay connected to your partner over the long term,” according to the APA.

5. Keep things fresh

Boredom can plague a relationship, which is why it’s important for couples to keep their relationship fresh by planning date nights that include new activities and not just chilling on the couch while watching Netflix.

“To keep things interesting, some couples plan regular date nights,” the APA explained. “Even dates can get old, though, if you're always renting a movie or going to the same restaurant. Experts recommend breaking out of the routine and trying new things — whether that's going dancing, taking a class together or packing an afternoon picnic.”

6. Tell your partner how much you care about them

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but Elite Daily’s Paul Hudson suggests that couples should always give each other compliments and offer constant reminders of how much they care about their spouse.

“Don't just tell him or her; show your partner that you love him or her, that you care," Hudson wrote. "Expressing your love requires you having a keen understanding of what affection means to him or her — not to you, but to your partner. This is where most people go wrong.”

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

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