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  • Reviewer: Queenie Lee

  • Intimacy, security, respect,

  • good communication, a sense of being valued.

  • These are some of the things that most people would agree

  • make for healthy relationships.

  • And researchers would agree, too.

  • There is a large body of literature on romantic relationships

  • that has identified the features of healthy relationships,

  • and the list I just provided contains many of them.

  • Researchers also agree

  • on what makes for unhealthy relationships -

  • things like fighting so much that you just can't work things out;

  • not being able to go to your partner for support when you need it;

  • contempt, criticism, hostility, violence.

  • When these problems happen in relationships,

  • they can cause significant unhappiness.

  • They can lead to the end of relationships and divorce,

  • and they can literally make people physically and emotionally sick.

  • This is why it is so critical that people have healthy relationships.

  • But there is a problem:

  • how many people know,

  • I mean, really know what to do on a day-to-day basis,

  • to create healthy relationships?

  • My point is this: we may know what a healthy relationship looks like,

  • but most people have no idea how to get one,

  • and no one teaches us how to do so.

  • We need to teach people how to have healthy relationships.

  • Now, you know when we typically do so? After it's too late.

  • It is called couples therapy.

  • I do couples therapy, and it can be a wonderful thing.

  • But many people come to couples therapy

  • with so many ingrained problems and patterns that they just can't change.

  • It's too late.

  • You know when else we try to teach people how to have healthy relationships?

  • Right before they get married.

  • It's call premarital education.

  • And this is a good idea:

  • teach people how to have a good relationship

  • while they are still happy, presumably.

  • And it can work.

  • But in my opinion, it's still too late.

  • Why?

  • Because people have already selected

  • the person they want to commit their life to.

  • What if they selected poorly?

  • No amount of premarital education can make up for a bad partner choice.

  • So the ways we have tried to teach people how to have healthy relationships

  • have been limited,

  • because they fail to address three important things:

  • genuinely knowing what you want and need in a partner and a relationship,

  • selecting the right person,

  • and developing and using skills right from the beginning.

  • I don't mean the beginning of any particular relationship.

  • I mean the beginning-beginning, like as soon as possible.

  • We need to teach people, especially young people,

  • how to have healthy relationships.

  • Now, towards this end, my colleagues and I have developed

  • a skills based model of relationship functioning

  • that we believe can help people

  • create the things that lead to healthy relationships

  • and reduce the behaviors that lead to unhealthy ones.

  • We've identified three skills -

  • insight, mutuality, and emotion regulation -

  • that form the basis for what we call romantic competence.

  • Romantic competence is the ability to function adaptively

  • across all areas or all aspects of the relationship process,

  • from figuring out what you need,

  • to finding the right person, to building a healthy relationship,

  • and to getting out of relationships that are unhealthy.

  • I'll tell you more about the skills in a minute,

  • but first, let me say that we didn't just make this up out of the blue.

  • We identified the skills

  • based on a thorough review of theory and research.

  • And the skills really represent the commonalities

  • across the major theories and research findings

  • on healthy relationships.

  • And because they represent the commonalities,

  • we think they really can help people

  • with all the different parts of the relationship process,

  • and with all different people - whether people in a relationship or not.

  • So let me tell you about the skills.

  • The first one is insight.

  • Insight is about awareness, and understanding, and learning.

  • So with insight, you'll have a better idea of who you are, what you need,

  • what you want, why you do the things you do.

  • So let's say you are being really snappy to your partner.

  • With insight, you might notice or realize

  • that it's not that your partner is doing anything,

  • but actually you're really stressed out at work.

  • What you really need is to relax a little bit,

  • so it doesn't bleed out over into your relationship.

  • Insight will also let you know your partner better.

  • Let's say your partner shows up late for a date.

  • With insight, you'll know why.

  • For example, maybe your partner is late for everything.

  • It's nothing about you or the relationship.

  • That's just who your partner is.

  • With insight, you'll be able to anticipate

  • the positive and negative consequences of your behavior.

  • For example, you'll know that if you send that nasty text,

  • it is not going to go well.

  • Maybe you'd better make a phone call instead.

  • With insight, you will be able to learn from your mistakes

  • in ways that allow you to behave differently in the future.

  • So maybe you'll recognize that you're the kind of person

  • who tends to jump in really quickly -

  • you get wrapped up in the romance of things -

  • and then things don't go well.

  • So you might be able to say,

  • "Well, you know what the next time

  • I'm just going to take things a little more slowly

  • and not repeat the same mistake.

  • And with insight, you'll have a better understanding

  • about what's really right for you in a relationship.

  • Maybe you're the kind of person

  • who really needs a monogamous relationship.

  • You are not OK with your partner seeing other people.

  • Or maybe you'll realize it's just the opposite,

  • that you're not ready to settle down,

  • and you need a partner who is OK with that.

  • So that's insight.

  • The second skill is mutuality.

  • Mutuality is about knowing that both people have needs,

  • and that both sets of needs matter.

  • With mutuality

  • you'll be able to convey your own needs in a clear direct fashion

  • that increases the likelihood that you'll get them met.

  • Let's say you have to go to a really stressful family event,

  • and you'd like your partner to be there with you.

  • You might say directly:

  • "You know this is going to be stressful for me.

  • I'd really love for you to be there;

  • you'll be a really good buffer for me.

  • Is there any way you can clear your schedule to come with me?"

  • With mutuality,

  • you'll be willing to meet your partner's needs as well.

  • Let's say you know that your partner really likes to go to the gym

  • first thing in the morning,

  • it makes your partner feel better the rest of the day.

  • Mutuality will let you be willing to support your partner in this,

  • even though you'd really rather have your partner stay home, in bed with you.

  • And mutuality also lets you factor both people's needs

  • into decisions that you make about your relationship.

  • So let's say you get a great job offer that you'd like to take,

  • but you know it means you will to have to work more,

  • and you know how important it is

  • for both you and your partner to spend time together.

  • With a mutual approach, you might say,

  • "You know, I'd really like to take this job,

  • it's really important to me,

  • but I also am concerned about us spending time together.

  • If I promise to protect some time for us,

  • will you be OK with me taking this job?"

  • That's a mutual approach to relationships.

  • The third skill is emotion regulation.

  • And emotion regulation is about regulating your feelings

  • in response to things that happen in your relationship.

  • With emotion regulation, you'll be able to ...

  • keep your emotions calm

  • and keep things that happen in your relationship in perspective.

  • So, you might think: "Oh, my goodness.

  • This is a disaster! This is the worst thing ever!

  • How am I going to handle this?"

  • With emotion regulation, you'll think:

  • "You know what, I can handle this.

  • This is going to be all right.

  • There is a way to deal with this. I'm going to figure this out.

  • Everything is going to be OK."

  • With emotion regulation,

  • you'll be able to tolerate uncomfortable feelings

  • and not act out on them impulsively,

  • so you'll to be able to think through your decisions more clearly.

  • So let's say your waiting for your partner to text you back.

  • That text isn't coming; you're getting really anxious;

  • you're checking your phone every two seconds.

  • With emotion regulation, you'll be able to tell yourself,

  • "You know what? Calm down.

  • The text is going to come.

  • I don't need to check my phone every second;

  • I'm just going to put it away and focus on the task at hand."

  • And with emotion regulation,

  • you'll be able to maintain a sense of self-respect

  • and commitment to your needs,

  • even when bad things happen in your relationship.

  • So let's say you have a breakup.

  • You're feeling really depressed; you're really missing your partner.

  • With emotion regulation,

  • you'll be able to let yourself know that it is OK;

  • that, yeah, you're going to feel depressed,

  • but you're going to get over it and get through this.

  • If you beg and plead to get back together,

  • you're not going to feel good about yourself,

  • and you don't even want to be in a relationship

  • that wasn't good for you.

  • So insight, mutuality, and emotion regulation.

  • I believe it's people's ability to use the skills on a day-to-day basis

  • that lets them have healthy relationships.

  • So let me give you an example of how this works.

  • The other day I was talking to someone, and she said

  • that when her partner asked her what she wanted for her birthday,

  • she told him she didn't want anything.

  • So guess what? She didn't get anything.

  • And she got really angry, and they had a big fight.

  • Why?

  • Because she really did want a present, she just didn't want to tell him;

  • she just wanted him to somehow know.

  • It is called mind reading.

  • It is a terrible idea; it never works.

  • Had she been using the skills,

  • insight would have let her know herself well enough to realize

  • that she really did want something,

  • and if she didn't get it, she was going to be mad.

  • Insight also would have let her know that her partner was the kind of guy

  • who was just going to take what she said literally.

  • Mutuality would have let her really ask for what she wanted,

  • directly and clearly.

  • And emotion regulation would have let her deal with any feelings she was having

  • that were getting in the way of doing that.

  • So maybe she was feeling kind of anxious:

  • What would he think if I asked for what I needed?

  • Or maybe she was feeling guilty, you know.

  • She knows they are saving for a big trip,

  • and she maybe thought that he would think that she was kind of greedy or something.

  • So if she had used the skills, she would have been able to say,

  • "You know what?

  • I know we are saving for that trip,

  • but I really like that necklace that we saw the other day,

  • and it wasn't that expensive."

  • He would have gotten it for her.

  • She would have felt respected and valued.

  • He would have been happy.

  • They would have felt more intimate.

  • This whole birthday gift thing would have gone well,

  • instead of ending in a fight

  • that could really damage their relationship.

  • Now, this was just an anecdote.

  • We have data to support this as well.

  • I've been studying romantic competence,

  • the ability for people to use insight, mutuality, and emotion regulation,

  • among young people.

  • In one of our studies,

  • we looked at 13- and 14-year-old girls, early