3 Keys to a Strong Relationship

3 Keys to a Strong Relationship

All strong relationships have three things in common, according to Meredith Hansen, Psy.D, a psychologist and relationship expert: trust, commitment and vulnerability.

“Trust allows a couple to know that their partner is there for them, truly cares about them, is coming from a good place, and supports them,” she said.

It means keeping your word and putting your relationship first, especially when you’re confronting a decision that might compromise it, she said.

A minor example of following through is calling your spouse to tell them you’re safe if they worry when you’re running late, she said. And it means “demonstrating good character,” she said.

Commitment means “We’re in this together no matter what,” Hansen said. As a couple, you work on finding a solution, not walking away, she said. Building a commitment also happens on your end. Hansen suggested engaging in activities that connect you to your commitment every day.

For instance, have a playlist in the car that reminds you of your partner and schedule regular date nights, she said. If you’re married, have a playlist that reminds you of your wedding, frame your vows to remind you of your promises, discuss your growth as a couple on anniversaries, watch your wedding video and look through your photos, she said.

“Vulnerability is all about taking the risk to be your real, genuine self [with your partner],” Hansen said. For instance, being vulnerable includes sharing your feelings, not your thoughts, she said. Instead of saying “I feel like you did this on purpose” or “It seems you don’t love me anymore,” you explain, “I feel hurt, disappointed, worried or scared,” she said.

“Vulnerability requires trust and safety in the relationship, but if you can truly make the effort to reveal your softer side, then you’ll continue [to] grow closer as a couple,” Hansen said.

What Doesn’t Work

People think that strong relationships require communication training, Hansen said. While communication is important, it’s not much help if your trust is shattered, a partner is emotionally distant or a partner is unsure about staying in the relationship, she said.

Communication actually naturally improves, according to Hansen, after couples start reconnecting and stop defending themselves. In fact, her first goal with couples clients is to help them strengthen their connection and feel emotionally safe, she said.

Nurturing Your Bond Daily

Relationships require “small amounts of effort every day to nurture the bond between the two of you,” Hansen said. For instance, she suggested a variety of ways to strengthen your bond, including: kissing daily; sending sweet text messages; unplugging during dinnertime; walking together, touching often; listening often; asking your partner about their big meeting, their happiness, goals and dreams; making love; making eye contact; sharing your feelings and putting your partner first.

It’s also important to be able to pay attention and acknowledge the effect your fears and insecurities have on your relationship, she said.

“Remember that relationship satisfaction will continually ebb and flow, but if you practice coming back to your ‘why’ — why am I in this relationship, why does this relationship matter to me — you’ll easily get back on track,” Hansen said.

How to Keep Your Relationship Alive

What makes for a healthy romantic relationship differs from couple to couple. Forming a trusting and positive partnership takes effort and time. And unfortunately, it doesn’t just happen overnight. For any relationship to grow strong and stay strong, you need to put in some work. Below are some habits that will help create and maintain a happy and healthy twosome.


Communication is key. It is one of the most important qualities a healthy relationship. However, not everyone knows how to communicate properly . or even communicate at all. Happy and healthy couples have this game down. They vocalize their love for one another, saying “I love you” often and offering compliments. They also discuss the bad instead of sweeping issues under the rug. In order to move forward and grow, you two need to be able to truly talk about your feelings. No matter how awkward or uncomfortable it feels, it will make for a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship.


Aretha Franklin sang a whole song about it, so you know it’s got to be important. Respecting your partner comes in many forms. Maintaining a joyful relationship means respecting your partner’s time, heart, character, and trust. However, there are many things people do in relationships that can break down respect, like name-calling, talking negatively about the other to friends or family, and/or threatening to leave the relationship.

Quality Time, Not Quantity

It’s all about quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter how much time you and your partner spend together. The most important part is about the quality of this time. There’s a huge difference between having dinner at a table while talking about your day at work, versus having dinner while sitting on a couch watching the latest episode of The Voice. It’s fine to zone out together and enjoy distractions, but it’s crucial to make sure you two are still engaging and spending quality time together to maintain a deep connection.

Time Apart

Spending time together with your partner is important. But just as important is spending time apart. Being able to do your own things and remain independent is vital. When couples spend too much time together, it can create an unhealthy codependence. Maintaining healthy boundaries and some autonomy will make for a long-lasting partnership.

Love Languages

Gary Chapman came up with the notion that men and women have five love languages. People have unique ways of feeling loved. There are words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time, acts of service, and physical touch. It’s important to know which love language speaks to you, along with your partner. Telling each other what makes you feel loved and special helps both of you stay connected. Furthermore, make sure you are attending to your partner’s love language consistently.


Often, we forget to let other people in our lives know that we appreciate them. We think it, but we don't remember to show it. This occurs in our romantic relationships as well. Show your special someone that you love him or her. This could be done with words, cards, flowers, acts of kindness, or more. Remember, a flower a day keeps the fights at bay. Okay, maybe not every day, but you get the point.

Positive Vs. Negative

Sometimes, we get caught up in the negative. We hate our jobs, are annoyed with our friends, and our boyfriend or girlfriend is getting on our last nerve. Uh-oh, have we been drinking too much of that half-empty glass? It’s vital that we look at our partner’s positive qualities, in contrast to the negative. Nobody is perfect, and that includes our significant other. So instead of focusing on the bad, let's make a conscious effort to look at the good.

Choose Your Battles

There are arguments to be had in every relationship. It’s crucial to bring issues to the forefront, and work through the hard times together. However, I don’t think arguing over your SO using your favorite coffee cup should be one of those. Choose your battles wisely, because people in happy and healthy relationships do.

Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s also talk about how important it is in cultivating a flourishing relationship. Sex is simple. The more you have it, the more you want it. The other side of that is true as well. The less you have it, the less you want it — and, unfortunately, the less you'll feel connected to your partner. Keep your sex life alive and interesting. "Spicing it up" is not just meant for the kitchen.

No Comparisons

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Or even if it is, it might not be the kind of grass you would like. We often compare our lives to those of others — what jobs people have, their homes, their clothes. And with the help of social media, we tend to compare our relationships as well. But the happiest of couples don’t look to see what the grass looks like on the other side. They are happy with the view out their own front door.

Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our SoundCloud page.

Want more sex? Of course you do. So download Bustle's app from iTunes for all the most recent sex and relationships news, advice, memes, and GIFs from around the Web. Guaranteed to fulfill you more than your ex.

Why This Science-Backed Relationship Tip May Not Be Useful For Everyone

In any intimate, long-term relationship, it's necessary at some point or another to have difficult conversations. It's only natural that sometimes, those tough talks can become arguments. Those arguments may well come up even more as people try to get through the holiday season. With all the added stress of travel and family, conventional relationship advice might not be applicable to everyone when it comes to figuring out how to most effectively resolve your relationship's most pressing issues. Surely, actively listening to your partner is key, but it can be even more difficult to pay full attention when so much else is going on.

According to a recent study, you're more likely to be able to resolve disagreements effectively if you have a good memory, Scientific American reported. As relationship issues might flair up with the holiday season, however, it's important to remember that conventional relationship advice may not work for people who are affected by trauma. Having a solid memory might be great for your relationship, especially during potentially rocky winter months, but this finding might seem more than a little demoralizing for folks who experience memory loss, especially stemming from trauma.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that the success of an intimate relationship is often shaped by a person's ability to process and recall details of what their partner has said in the past. The study found that the greater the ability of participants to proactively remember things their partner had told them, the more effectively people could solve relationship problems.

However, not everyone has the same ability to remember such detail. Dr. Sheila Rauch, the clinical director of the Emory University Veterans Program, says that vulnerability is an important part of any relationship. Folks who struggle with opening up in general might have difficulty communicating effectively and therefore, resolving arguments well. This struggle might be especially tough for people with a history of trauma, Dr. Rauch says. For example, relationships may be impacted by past traumatic brain injuries that can cause current memory loss. And while people with more psychological forms of trauma such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) might not experience current memory loss, difficulty remembering past events due to trauma may also impact current relationships.

Dr. Rauch tells Bustle that people living with PTSD might experience difficulties being open with their partners because they "may not remember pieces of the [past] trauma." The vulnerability of being unable to access such big memories "can be upsetting, as [people] may worry about what happened in the part of the memory they do not recall." This worry can exacerbate current PTSD symptoms. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one of the common symptoms of PTSD is difficulty concentrating, which can lead to people having a hard time communicating effectively with their partner.

If you have a history of trauma and resulting difficulty concentrating, it might be especially difficult to fully engage in current conversations about relationship issues. In turn, this can leave their partners feeling unheard or invalidated, as demonstrated in the Journal of Experimental Psychology study. This is a big issue, because the study found that actively remembering and engaging with conversations about conflict is helpful for lasting relationships.

However, a lack of ability to engage with and immediately recall past conversations with your partner may be part of your brain's wiring when you're living with a history of trauma. "People with PTSD often withdraw from previous activities and relationships due to avoidance," Dr. Rach tells Bustle. This withdrawal can include dissociation, which she says can create a sense of disconnect from yourself and the things happening around you.

Dissociation, when it occurs during arguments that might trigger someone's PTSD, can impact people's ability to maintain awareness of what's actually going on around them. According to a 2017 study published in the journal Neuropsychologia, people with PTSD who have experiences of dissociation are more likely than people without PTSD to have memory recall errors. These errors, in turn, can impact their ability to retain what their partner might say to them during these times and have the inadvertent result of making their partner feel unheard.

To help all parties in a relationship get their needs met, it's important to ask for help, Dr. Rauch says. "Talk with your support people about the issues," she tells Bustle. "Social support is one of the most robust predictors of positive function following trauma." In addition to seeking help from those closest to you, Dr. Rauch says that professional treatment is also crucial. "Treatment for PTSD is effective and memory improvements can occur as PTSD symptoms are reduced or remit," she tells Bustle. According to Dr. Rauch, Prolonged Exposure and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), as well as some prescribed medications and other trauma-sensitive forms of therapy, can be particularly helpful for people living with PTSD. These forms of assistance are all important in supporting you and your relationship, because all people in the relationship (including you) deserve to feel heard, understood, and cared for.

Baker, L.R. (2019) Romantic partners’ working memory capacity facilitates relationship problem resolution through recollection of problem-relevant information. Journal of Experimental Psychology,

Swick, D. (2017) Dissociation between working memory performance and proactive interference control in post-traumatic stress disorder. Neuropsychologia,

Dr. Sheila Rauch, Clinical Director of the Emory University Veterans Program, Anxiety and Depression Association of America board member

2. Positive Reinforcement

Building an athlete up through positive support and encouragement can help them accomplish their personal goals and support the team constructively. Coaches who help their teams visualize a positive outcome can increase the team’s chances of achieving success.

Coaches don’t need to be positive about every aspect to accomplish their goals. They can acknowledge where their athletes are doing well, along with showing them where they need improvement. It’s important to note that positive reinforcement hinges on effective communication. One of the coach’s responsibilities is to help their players grow as athletes, as well as help them gain confidence in their skills both on and off the field.

Coaches may find that with positive reinforcement, their players will find their own inner-motivation and continue to improve individually. A team that is self-motivated can rise above challenges and find success.

When do you build and sustain relationships?

You do it all the time. If you take an extra five minutes to ask the person who is stuffing envelopes how they think the baseball team is doing this year, you will have built a stronger relationship.

Some relationships require more time than others. You may want to meet for lunch once a month with all the other directors of youth organizations in your town. You may need to meet twice this week with a staff member who has some built up resentment about the job. You may want to call your school committee representative every now and then to check in about issues of common concern.

As community organizers with few resources, we are often under enormous pressures that distract us from paying attention to relationships. We feel the urgency of achieving important goals. We mistakenly feel that spending time on relationships is the fluffy stuff that makes a person feel good, but doesn't get the job done. Often, however, relationships are the key to solving a problem or getting the job done. Building and sustaining many solid, strong relationships is central to our work as community leaders.

Relationships are the groundwork

Often building relationships is the groundwork that must be laid before anything else gets done on a project. The bigger the project, the more relationships you will usually need as a foundation.

For example, if you are organizing a coalition of community groups that will work to create a multicultural arts center, it would be a good idea to get to know people in each organization before trying to get them together to work on the project.

Ask yourself: "Would you be more persuaded by someone you know, or by a complete stranger?" Then be guided by your own answer.

When you plan a project, you need to include the time it takes to build relationships into your plan. People need time to build trust. Whenever people work together, they need to have trusting relationships. When trust is missing, people usually have a difficult time functioning cooperatively. They worry about risking too much. Disagreements seem to erupt over no important reason. Investing time, resources, and one's organizational reputation can be risky. At the least people want some return for their investment. They have to feel like you know them as a person, understand their interests, and will not let them down.

Back to the multicultural arts center example--if creating one will involve several community groups, and if you don't know them well (and they don't know each other), start working together on a smaller project first. For example, you can jointly sponsor an evening of cultural sharing. If the evening is successful, you will have gained some shared trust and confidence on which to build. You can plan several similar events that will build trust over a period of time.

If things are not going well, back up and try an easier challenge. If you begin to hold discussions on the multicultural arts center and people show signs of apprehension rather than excitement, slow down the process. Take on an easier challenge until strong relationships are better established.

Establish relationships before you need them

It's always better to build relationships before you need them or before a conflict arises. If you already have a good relationship with the grocery store owner in your neighborhood, you will be in a better position to help solve a dicey conflict between him and some neighborhood teens. If you have already established a relationship with your school committee representative, she might be more willing to respond to your opinions about special education funding.

Establishing relationships in a crisis

It is not impossible to establish relationships during a crisis, and often a crisis can bring people together. While it may seem unusual, make the most of your organization's crises. Call for help and people will rise to the call. You can build relationships when you are in need, because people often want to help.

Stay Positive

Want to build a strong relationship?

Research suggests that one of the best ways to do this is to stay positive.

No matter what situation the two of you are going through, then, it’s important that you at least try to stay positive so that you aren’t fostering extra stress, resentment, and frustration.

Of course, this does not mean that there’s never a cause for depression or grief.

No one can stay happy all the time.

What it does mean, however, is that you don’t walk around bitter or upset, as this can only drive you away from your partner and cause the two of you to engage in useless arguments.

Remember that your partner loves you and doesn’t want to see you upset.

By the same token, however, they still love themselves and don’t want to be constantly thrown into a cesspool of negative emotion.

For this reason, make sure to stay as positive as you can so that you can spend happier times with your partner and be there for him when he needs you.

In doing so, you’ll be able to build a strong relationship that will last for years.

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory is a concept in developmental psychology that concerns the importance of "attachment" in regards to personal development. Specifically, it makes the claim that the ability for an individual to form an emotional and physical "attachment" to another person gives a sense of stability and security necessary to take risks, branch out, and grow and develop as a personality. Naturally, attachment theory is a broad idea with many expressions, and the best understanding of it can be had by looking at several of those expressions in turn.

John Bowlby

Psychologist John Bowlby was the first to coin the term. His work in the late 60s established the precedent that childhood development depended heavily upon a child's ability to form a strong relationship with "at least one primary caregiver". Generally speaking, this is one of the parents.

Bowlby's studies in childhood development and "temperament" led him to the conclusion that a strong attachment to a caregiver provides a necessary sense of security and foundation. Without such a relationship in place, Bowlby found that a great deal of developmental energy is expended in the search for stability and security. In general, those without such attachments are fearful and are less willing to seek out and learn from new experiences. By contrast, a child with a strong attachment to a parent knows that they have "back-up" so to speak, and thusly tend to be more adventurous and eager to have new experiences (which are of course vital to learning and development).

There is some basis in observational psychology here. The baby who is attached strongly to a caregiver has several of his or her most immediate needs met and accounted for. Consequently, they are able to spend a great deal more time observing and interacting with their environments. Thusly, their development is facilitated.

In Depth Observational Psychology

Introduction to observational psychology with an overview of Bandura's social learning theory, modern issues in observational psychology and an. Learn more

For Bowlby, the role of the parent as caregiver grows over time to meet the particular needs of the attached child. Early on, that role is to be attached to and provide constant support and security during the formative years. Later, that role is to be available as the child needs periodic help during their excursions into the outside world. 1

Mary Ainsworth

Mary Ainsworth would develop many of the ideas set forth by Bowlby in her studies. In particular, she identified the existence of what she calls "attachment behavior", examples of behavior that are demonstrated by insecure children in hopes of establishing or re-establishing an attachment to a presently absent caregiver. Since this behavior occurs uniformly in children, it is a compelling argument for the existence of "innate" or instinctual behavior in the human animal.

The study worked by looking at a broad cross-section of children with varying degrees of attachment to their parents or caregivers from strong and healthy attachments to weak and tenuous bonds. The children were then separated from their caregivers and their responses were observed. The children with strong attachments were relatively calm, seeming to be secure in the belief that their caregivers would return shortly, whereas the children with weak attachments would cry and demonstrate great distress under they were restored to their parents.

Later in the same study, children were exposed to intentionally stressful situations, during which nearly all of them began to exhibit particular behaviors that were effective in attracting the attention of their caregivers &ndash a keen example of attachment behavior. 2

Hazan and Shaver

Early on, one of the primary limitations of attachment theory was that it had only really been studied in the context of young children. While studies of children are often instrumental in the field of developmental psychology, that field is ideally supposed to address the development of the entire human organism, including the stage of adulthood. In the 1980s, Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver were able to garner a lot of attention, then, when they turned attachment theory on adult relationships. 3

In their studies, they looked at a number of couples, examining the nature of the attachments between them, and then observed how those couples reacted to various stressors and stimuli. In the case of adults, it would seem that a strong attachment is still quite important. For example, in cases where the adults had a weak attachment, there were feelings of inadequacy and a lack of intimacy on the part of both parties. When attachments were too strong, there were issues with co-dependency. The relationships functioned best when both parties managed to balance intimacy with independence. Much as is the case with developing children, the ideal situation seemed to be an attachment that functioned as a secure base from which to reach out and gain experience in the world.

Criticisms of Attachment Theory

One of the most common criticisms of attachment theory is that non-Western societies tend to offer up compelling counter-examples. For instance, in Papua New Guinea or Uganda, the idea of a child being intimately attached to a caregiver is somewhat alien, and child-rearing duties are more evenly distributed among a broader group of people. Still, "well-adjusted" members of society are produced, indicating that, at least in these societies, some other mechanism is acting in the place of the attachments that are so necessary for Western children.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless. [1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It&rsquos a no-brainer.

Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn&rsquot mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn&rsquot mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn&rsquot necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren&rsquot always that important. The brain doesn&rsquot&mdashand shouldn&rsquot&mdashcare what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain&rsquos emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event. [2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer&mdashliterally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

How to Build a Healthier Relationship

Toxic behaviors are often a sign that an unhealthy relationship should end. For other problems, there are many ways to fix weaknesses and build a healthier relationship.

Some steps you can take to make your relationship stronger:

Show Appreciation

Couples who feel gratitude for one another feel closer to one another and tend to be more satisfied with their relationships. One study published in the journal Personal Relationships found that showing gratitude for a partner can be an important way to boost satisfaction in romantic relationships.  

Another study found that feeling gratitude for a romantic partner was a predictor of whether a relationship would last.  

Keep Things Interesting

Keeping up with the daily grind of work and kids can sometimes cause couples to fall into the same old routine. Boredom can lead to greater dissatisfaction as a relationship goes on. Researchers have found, for example, that couples who reported feeling bored in the seventh year of their relationship were more likely to experience marital dissatisfaction nine years later.  

So what are some things that you can do to keep the romance alive over the long-term?

  • Make time for one another schedule in dates or set aside time each week to focus on one another
  • Try new things together take a class or try a new hobby that you can both enjoy
  • Break out of the same old routine
  • Find time for intimacy

What Is a Functional Relationship in Psychology?

In psychology, a functional relationship is a relationship in which the value of one party is dependent on the value of a second party. A relationship is considered functional when there is respect, accountability and resilience. A functional relationship offers an emotionally safe environment for the people involved and respects privacy of space.

A relationship is classified as either functional or dysfunctional, though even functional relationships experience aspects of dysfunction at some point. To make the relationship functional, parties in a relationship stay committed to the relationship and adapt to challenges and disappointments over the course of the relationship.

Factors that compromise a functional relationship include apportioning of blame, threats to walk out of the relationship and dominance. Lack of forgiveness and holding of grudges contribute significantly to a dysfunctional relationship. Winner-or-loser arguments are characteristic of a dysfunctional relationship. Emotional ownership of the other person also leads to a dysfunctional environment.

In a functional relationship, parties are supportive of one another, caring and accepting the dreams of the other party. Functional relationships are built on loyalty, meaning that members confide in each other, without disclosure of intimate matters to outsiders without the consent of the other. In a functional relationship, parties listen to one another and accept opposing views. Functional relationships allow parties to grow and change.