Free Expert Advice For Healthier Relationship Dynamics

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated June 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free, support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
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Studies show that positive social connections are one of the top contributing factors to mental health and happiness. Relationships—especially romantic ones, for those who experience romantic attraction—can be exciting, satisfying, and fulfilling. However, navigating the dynamic between partners can be challenging; serious relationship issues can and do arise. For many people, learning healthy communication patterns is a process. 

In this article, we outline free relationship advice to help you foster healthier dynamics and therefore a healthy relationship. 

1. Know your attachment style

A British psychoanalyst in the 1950s originally devised attachment theory. It says that humans all have an inherent need to form close emotional bonds with others. The quality of the one with our primary caregiver in our first six months of life can inform our ability to create other attachments as adults. If not, one of the insecure types may develop and manifest in that person's future adult relationships. The four attachment styles outlined in this theory are:

  • Anxious-preoccupied. This style is characterized by a need for the approval of others, an intense desire to be emotionally close to others, low self-esteem, and fear of abandonment. According to attachment theory, this style may result from unresponsive or neglectful parenting.
  • Dismissive-avoidant. This style is characterized by a disinterest in or avoidance of emotional intimacy or difficulty handling emotions. The theory states that this style may result from caregiver rejection during childhood.
  • Fearful-avoidant. This style is characterized by both a desire for and a fear of close partnerships, potentially leading a person to switch back and forth between emotionally available and distant. Per attachment theory, it may be the result of childhood abuse or trauma.
No one can control the situation they're born into or the behavior of their childhood caregivers, of course. So, what can you do if you exhibit signs of one of the insecure attachment styles? Research shows ways to change one's attachment style over time. One study, for example, found that if a person can develop a high level of trust in their partner and if the partner supports their goals, they can reduce attachment avoidance over time and come out more receptive on the other end. In addition, becoming aware of your attachment style and where it comes from and learning strategies to change your patterns can be effective, too. A trained therapist may be able to help you with a goal like this.
2. Set healthy boundaries

The ability to set boundaries can be crucial in developing healthy partnerships, including romantic ones. Limits may help maintain an equal power balance, which research suggests correlates with higher partnership satisfaction. They can also help ensure that both partners are getting their needs met, which can help avoid the building of resentment. 

Some examples of boundaries include:

  • Saying no to a party you don't want to go to
  • Saying no to sex when you don't want to have it
  • Setting a time limit for a conversation and not going over it
  • Setting aside alone time for yourself
  • Not spending more money than you're comfortable with
  • Choosing to end an unhealthy relationship

Respecting a partner's boundaries can look like this:

  • Respect "no" as a complete answer
  • Not coercing them into doing something they don't want to do
  • Not making them feel guilty for saying no to something
  • Being open to honest discussions of boundaries

To practice setting healthy boundaries with the people in your life, you can start by saying no to things that make you uncomfortable and regularly voicing your preferences and needs. While a partnership usually requires compromise from time to time, advocating for what you need to be happy and healthy is also essential.

3. Practice self-love

Forming and maintaining healthy relationships can be more difficult for those with low self-esteem or challenges with self-love. Research supports this, having found that higher self-esteem is associated with more satisfying interpersonal connections and other benefits, including improved mental and physical health. Without it, a person may depend on their partner for constant validation. They may feel insecure in their marriage and constantly fear being cheated on or abandoned, which can manifest as jealousy or controlling behaviors. 

If you want to learn how to love yourself, you can try several different tactics. One method is to start practicing mindfulness, which a 2013 study suggests is linked to higher self-esteem. Becoming aware of your self-talk so that you can shift it to be more positive is another. Meeting with a counselor can also help you develop strategies for increasing your levels of self-love and self-esteem. You can also find several free guided mindfulness meditations and helpful articles online.

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4. Learn about love languages

Love languages represent the different ways in which people may prefer to give and receive love. Gary Chapman—a marriage counselor who has decades of experience— popularized this framework in his 1992 book, positing that all partners have one or two forms of receiving affection that make them feel the most loved and appreciated. 

Sometimes, relationship issues are caused when two partners have different love languages. According to Chapman and many other experts, healthy connections can be fostered when partners discuss and understand one another’s love languages. Research shows that couples who regularly follow this advice, and show love in their partner's primary language report higher relationship satisfaction. Hence, it's worth learning about if you're in or seeking a romantic relationship. 

Here are the five love languages and a few examples of each:

  • Physical touch: holding hands, cuddling, hugs, putting your hand on their shoulder, kissing, sexual intimacy.
  • Quality time: watching TV together, walking, having distraction-free conversations, playing games, and trying something new together.
  • Acts of service: taking out the trash, making them breakfast in bed, filling up their gas tank, giving them support or advice on a problem.
  • Gift giving: buying small, thoughtful presents that remind you of them, making them a gift from scratch.
  • Words of affirmation: talking to your partner about you love and appreciate them, writing love letters, sending texts with encouragement.
5. Become an active listener

Active listening is "pairing outwardly visible positive listening behaviors with positive cognitive listening practices." It can be a valuable skill to have in any relationship. It allows the other person to feel like they're being honestly heard and helps you, as the listener, better internalize and understand what's being said to you. According to the International Journal of Listening, active listening has three components:

  1. You are displaying nonverbal involvement. This may include physical cues like head nods, positive body language, and eye contact. These can let your partner know—without interrupting them—with talk—that you're engaged in the conversation.
  2. They are refraining from judgment. However, letting their words sink in without jumping to conclusions may be helpful to you both. While it's often easier said than done, this practice can help you fully understand their message without getting distracted by preparing your reply. 
  3. Asking questions. Asking questions about what you just heard can help you clarify that you understand what your partner is getting at, and it shows that you're interested in doing so.

Like any other skill, active listening can be improved over time with practice. Since robust and open communication is often the foundation for healthy interpersonal connections of different kinds, it may benefit you and your partner's dynamic to hone your skills in this way.

6. Improve your conflict-resolution skills

Conflict is an inevitable part of virtually every interpersonal relationship, and romantic dynamics are no exception. Working through conflict in a productive way may bring about better outcomes for you and your partner and make it easier to handle disagreements. Here are a few tips that may help.

Use "I" statements

According to the advice of many relationship experts, beginning statements with the word "you" can sound accusatory and blaming and may cause the other person to become defensive, which is generally not a recipe for productive conflict resolution. Instead, a 2018 academic paper suggests that using "I" statements ("I feel that…", "From my perspective…") can "reduce the chances that conflict discussion will descend into a downward spiral of hostility." Since you're only in control of your thoughts and behaviors, expressing yourself from your point of view can create a more neutral space to sort through different opinions.

Consider your tone and volume

Pay attention to your tone of voice during disputes with your partner, especially those that get heated. For example, a few deep breaths or some time apart before discussing to let your emotions settle could be beneficial. 

In the same way, it can be helpful to pay attention to the volume of your voice. Raising it could cause your partner to retreat in fear or to raise their voice in defense. 

7. Consider seeking professional help
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Dating questions are common, and couples in all different types of situations may choose to seek individual or couples therapy for help overcoming challenges in their relationships. When someone is not happy in relationship, trained therapists and experts can help people build more vital communication skills, for instance, uncover unhealthy relationship patterns, work through a traumatic event like a loss or an affair, or strengthen their partnership in other ways. Someone in a romantic partnership may also seek out therapy with a licensed psychologist on an individual basis to learn more about their attachment style, build self-esteem, or get guidance in setting healthy boundaries. You may also want to pursue counseling online, which can be more convenient than in-person counseling.

Online relationship therapy

Online therapy is available for couples or individuals interested in connecting with a therapist from the comfort of their own homes. There are a ton of resources wherein you can find free relationship counseling online, including couples therapy, or marriage counseling. A conversation with a family therapist may be helpful if you and your partner have children. In addition, research suggests that virtual therapy offers similar benefits to in-person sessions, and it's typically a more available and cost-effective format. Platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video, and chat. Pursuing therapy may help you build and maintain healthier relationships regardless of the method you choose.

Below, you'll find some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people who have experienced various relationship challenges.

Takeaway

Many factors go into building and maintaining a healthy romantic relationship. The free relationship advice above can help you and your partner address issues, communicate in a healthy way, and identify warning signs that may portend future challenges. Relationship problems are common with young adults and older adults alike, and support from others can help. The tips and resources in this article may help you create or improve a strong, healthy, and fulfilling dynamic with your partner.
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