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Psychology-based Strategies for Strengthening your Relationship

Psychologists young and old have advised that using their research-backed strategies can help people strengthen relationships. These strategies are proven to help navigate the issues that come about, like arguments and negativity. You and your partner can create a more positive and long-lasting relationship with:

  • Empathic listening
  • Cognitive reframing
  • A soft start-up

When these techniques are put to work, it will be easier to communicate and work together with your partner.

Woman listening to male while drinking coffee
Being a good listener is essential for a healthy relationship.

1. Empathic Listening

There’s a reason it feels so helpful to vent—it’s much easier to cope with stress or anger when it feels like someone is listening. Psychologist Carl Rodgers proved that someone feels better if she is allowed to vent, with full control of the dialogue.

Being an empathic listener can help the discussion go smoothly. This means that you go through your partner’s emotions with her while ignoring the urge to butt in and give advice. Encourage someone in conversation instead of steering it away from her and work on your listening skills.

But listening is harder than it sounds. If your partner is upset about something and wants to talk about it, give her the time to sit down and listen to her. If you act like you don’t have the time to listen to your partner, it can create distance in the relationship.

Don’t use natural pauses in your partner’s speech as a chance to start talking—you’re really there to listen. If she feels strongly about something, she’s probably using a lot of energy to think about it and discuss it with you. Give her time to catch up.

Make sure to show your partner you’re paying attention by:

  • Using an engaged posture, leaning in to listen
  • Head nodding
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Giving verbal indications that you care
  • Not looking at your phone

Make sure to change up your body language to avoid looking like an unempathetic machine. It’s clear when a listener is uninterested, and that can easily upset the speaker, making her feel like her problems aren’t worth your time.

By letting your partner know that her complaints are valid, she is more likely to open up and come to a conclusion faster, maybe even on her own.

If it feels like your partner is done sharing, then you can chime in. You can express sympathy, explaining a time when you maybe went through a similar situation. Don’t necessarily offer advice—even if it seems obvious to you—because that’s not why she came to you.

But sitting quietly with a blank expression doesn’t help either—that makes it look like you don’t care. That’s why it is important to give verbal cues, such as follow-up questions or a “that really stinks.” By doing this, you’re relieving your partner by letting her know her feelings are valid.

Encourage your partner in conversation by asking her about what she’s feeling. It’s easy to focus on the facts when preoccupied with something, so the speaker may not yet understand why this situation is a problem for her. Allowing your partner to feel like she’s coming to her own conclusion is a skill of a good listener.

Just by letting the other person know that you are listening, your partner can feel better about the whole thing. Be patient, and make sure that you are listening to the other person’s words. Just by knowing she doesn’t sound crazy, your partner will have an easier time working through the issue and coming to a solution.

Woman smiling while holding a smiley face balloon
Focusing on the positive is beneficial for you and your relationship.

2.  Cognitive Reframing

Don’t underestimate the power of thinking happy thoughts. Positive psychologists Suzann Pileggi and James Pawelski say doing so helps maintain a healthy relationship in their book, Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love that Lasts.

Cognitive reframing is the psychology term for think positive. It means rewiring your brain to focus on good things. By putting effort into thinking happy, you’re training positive thoughts to turn into positive behavior.

In order to use cognitive reframing in your relationship, it needs to start with you. Work to ignore negative reactions to a situation and try to put a positive spin on it. For example, if you don’t like getting up early, try to see it as having more time to do things throughout the day.

Make sure to focus on your words and avoid extreme language, because saying something often makes it seem true. Odds are, you aren’t an idiot, even though you may have made a mistake that feels like it.

When it comes to your relationship, try to help your partner think positive as well. If she is focused on something that’s stressing her out, offer a change in perspective.

There are two ways to look at something that’s happened and encouraging your partner to shift her mindset on a regular basis will remind her that things are not always as bad as they seem.

Similarly, try not to get annoyed with your partner’s habits by learning to accept them as different from your own. Pileggi and Pawelski, a married couple, said while co-writing their book they “lived and breathed the concepts [they] are teaching about understanding, appreciating, and respecting one another’s unique strengths.”

You and your partner have different habits and ideas. Don’t get frustrated if you aren’t on the same wavelength all the time—think of it as a different way to approach something. Respecting each other for your differences is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship.

Exercising these reframing techniques on your own and with your partner will lead to a happier relationship. Like your muscles, training the brain takes practice. It may feel like you’re forcing it, but thinking positive on a regular basis will make you and your partner more positive overall.

Couple drinking coffee together
If there’s a problem in your relationship, go into the discussion calmly for best results.

3. Soften your Start-up

While arguments are inevitable, there are certainly effective ways to go about them.

Psychological researchers John Gottman and Sybil Carrè found that the first three minutes of an argument between a married couple can indicate the odds of divorce.

Their six year study saw that couples who began an argument with much criticism and hostility were more likely to be divorced six years later than those who tried to stay calm. Gottman himself said:

“94% of the time, the way a discussion starts determines the way it will end.”

So it’s better for the both of you to go into a discussion with positive intentions, which are expressed in your words and tone.

Gottman advises softening your start-up. Address issues with your partner calmly in a neutral tone. If you start discussing a problem by blaming and attacking your partner, he or she is likely to get defensive and respond with similar anger.

Employ a soft start-up by simply explaining what’s happening instead of judging. You can’t expect your partner to know exactly what you’re thinking, so be direct and focus the conversation on what it is exactly you are feeling.

Use “I” instead of “you” to avoid casting blame. Even if it feels like your partner is at fault, framing a concern as an accusation isn’t helpful.

Don’t forget about your body language. Little things like eye-rolling are signs to your partner that you’re not trying to resolve this issue with both of your feelings in mind.

At the end of your start-up, open the floor for a response from your partner. By finishing with a question such as “What do you think?” your partner is more likely to understand that you’re not trying to attack her.

If your partner responds with the negativity you were trying to avoid, remind her that was not what you intended. Reassure your partner that you’re only doing this to strengthen the relationship. Focus on not bouncing off of that negative energy to cause a big fight.

When you need to address an issue with your partner, don’t bottle up those feelings. If your frustration has been stirring for a while, it’s easier to blow up at your partner. As difficult as it may be to discuss an issue, it will be easier the sooner you start it.

It’s likely that you or your partner just want to be heard. By talking about an issue clearly and gently, your partner is more likely to want to put the effort into fixing it. Most importantly, tell your partner that you still respect and care for her despite the current issue.

Couple making a heart with their hands on a mountain
Understanding Positive Psychology can help you and your partner create a stronger relationship.

Relationships constantly face issues, but knowing how to handle them can benefit both people involved. Understanding these psychological techniques can help build a long-lasting relationship by working through arguments and negative energy.

How do you and your partner use positive psychology to strengthen your relationship? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!