I was watching a TedTalk the other day titled, ‘Skills for Healthy Romantic Relationships,’ and found it to be incredibly insightful. Many of us know what a healthy relationship looks like, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we know how to cultivate one. Joanne Davila and her colleagues identified three skills that form the basis of romantic competence: insight, mutuality, and emotion regulation. Romantic competence is the ability to function adaptively across all aspects of the relationships process.
The first skill, insight, is about awareness and understanding of your partner and the situation. For example, if you notice yourself saying unkind words to your partner, you might notice that something at work stressed you out and that you need to remove yourself from the situation so that you do not continue to lash out. Insight also helps you understand your partner at a deeper level so that you can be more understanding of them. With insight, you’ll be able to learn from your mistakes in ways that allow you to behave differently in the future.
The second skill, mutuality, is being able to recognize that both individuals in the relationship have needs, and that both of their needs are important. With proper implementation of mutuality, you effectively communicate your needs to your partner in a way that increases the likelihood that they will be met. For example, let's say you need to go to a really stressful family event and you would like your partner to be there with you. In order to have your needs met, you could say something like, “This is going to be stressful for me and I would really like for you to be there with me because your presence helps me to feel less anxious. Is there any way you can clear your schedule so that you can come with me?” "I" statements, eye contact, and reflecting back to your partner what you think they are saying can be helpful when trying to have a constructive conversation.
The third skill, emotion regulation, deals with regulating your feelings in response to things that happen in your relationship. By utilizing this skill you are able to keep your emotions calm while simultaneously keeping things that happen in your relationship in perspective. I urge clients to engage in positive self-talk and problem solving (as opposed to jumping straight to complaining) when issues arise. Positive self-talk with emotion regulation can look like this: “I can handle this” or “I am going to figure this out.” Tolerating uncomfortable feelings and not acting out on them impulsively is also an important part of emotion regulation.
Davila and her colleagues conducted a study amongst young adults (ages 18-25) and found that those who were more romantically competent felt more secure in relationships. They also reported making better and more conscious decisions. Additionally, they were more satisfied in their current relationship and reported fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms. Davila believes that the ability to use the aforementioned skills on a daily basis allows people to attain and maintain healthy relationships.