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Research shows our romantic relationships have a significant impact — both positive and negative — on our physical, emotional and mental health.
Arguments are normal in any healthy relationship. What matters is how partners address and resolve these conflicts with each other.
A psychotherapist at Swedish answers common relationship questions and offers tips to keep the romance alive even when you’re having an argument.
Do you feel your life is better when your romantic relationships are going well? Can an argument with your significant other ruin your entire day? Do you appreciate your partner more when you feel appreciated yourself? It’s easier to have a positive mental outlook when you’re getting along with your partner than it is when you’re arguing about money or whose turn it is to wash dishes.
A 2016 study found that relationship distress can be a predictor of mental illness as well as other predictors such as economic status, poor physical health or adverse life events. We talked to Ash Choi, psychotherapist at Swedish Behavioral Health, and got their insights about the importance of romantic relationships in our overall quality of life.
Do romantic relationships affect physical, mental and emotional health?
“The truth is that any of our relationships, romantic or otherwise, have significant impacts on our physical, mental, and emotional health — both positive and negative,” says Choi.
“Conversely, healthy relationships can have profoundly positive effects on all aspects of well-being, including stress reduction, happiness, physical and emotional resilience, conflict resolution skills, and quality of life.”
What puts a relationship at risk?
According to Choi, typical factors that put relationships at risk include:
- Ineffective communication.
- Issues surrounding trust.
- Dissatisfaction with or lack of emotional and/or physical intimacy.
- Differing values or goals.
- Financial distress.
- Substance abuse.
- Any form of partner abuse.
“Healthy partnerships require ongoing effort, engagement and attention from all parties to thrive,” explains Choi. “What matters more than the topic of conflict is how partners address and resolve these conflicts with each other.”
Is there a healthy way to argue with your partner?
“Absolutely. Arguments are a natural part of any relationship,” says Choi. “How partners handle arguments can significantly impact the overall health of a relationship.”
They offer these tips to argue effectively:
- Choose the right time and place. At home or somewhere private might be a better option than in a public place.
- Stay in the present moment. This is easier when each partner can recognize and regulate their own emotions.
- Listen actively. Avoid interrupting and practice empathy.
- Use “I” statements. Stay with your own experience.
- Focus on the issue at hand. Avoid scorekeeping or bringing up past grievances.
- Consider compromise. The key here is agreeing on solutions that work for each partner.
- Practice active problem-solving. Work together to find practical solutions instead of dwelling on what isn’t working.
Are there tactics couples can use to defuse an argument/situation before it accelerates?
“Allow each other to take a pause if needed. It is okay to take a break, calm down and re-regulate before returning to the conversation. Some folks use a silly code word like ‘cupcake’ to signify the need for a pause. The silliness of the word can sometimes help break up the tension,” says Choi.
“Agree to disagree,” they add. “Sometimes there isn’t an easy solution or answer. It is okay to have differing opinions and not be able to solve everything.”
Do you have any relationship advice to pass along?
“Relationships are full of complexity, but they can also be filled with joy, curiosity and wonder,” says Choi. “Make active efforts to learn about and understand each partner’s communication style. Have direct conversations about the division of mental and domestic labor. It takes a conscious effort from each person to talk about how to care for the home and each other and value and show respect for each person’s work.”
“Balance independence,” adds Choi. “Togetherness is important, and so is maintaining individuality, personal space and social connections. It is okay to not do everything together.”
“Support, thank and encourage each other,” they stressed. “It feels good all around.”
How do you know if you need professional help with a relationship?
Choi says they generally recommend relationship counseling in the following scenarios:
- When one, both or all partners feel stuck having the same arguments over and over again.
- When there are communication breakdowns that feel too big to solve as partners
- If there are breaches of trust.
- If one, both or all partners feel(s) emotionally disconnected or distant.
- If there are parenting challenges or conflicts.
- If one, both or all partners are feeling stuck or unhappy.
- If one, both or all partners are dealing with substance abuse or addiction.
- If there are major life transitions, such as divorce, having children, financial instability, career changes or retirement.
“I think a lot of people believe that if they go to couples therapy, there is something unfixable or unsalvageable about the relationship — that the relationship is doomed. I think that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” says Choi.
“Think about a kid needing help with algebra,” they continued. “The fact that they might seek help from a tutor does not mean they will never pass their algebra class. In fact, this kid might do very well in algebra because of the help they’ll have received. The same thing goes with relationship counseling.”
Does Swedish offer services to help people with their relationships?
“We have a wonderful team of talented behavioral health providers based at many clinics and locations. We are here to support folks in their mental health and are always happy to provide resources and referrals to patients interested in seeking support in their relationships,” says Choi. “Seattle has an incredible number of resources for couples and partners.”
Learn more and find a provider
The experts at Swedish Behavioral Health can help you navigate the relationships that are important to you and work with you to develop strategies that address the issues that threaten you and your partner’s quality of life together.
Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction, and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.
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