A happy couple using the four c's for a healthy relationship.

The Four C’s of a Healthy Relationship

By Published On: May 29, 2024

When you haven’t been shown what a healthy relationship looks like, how can you know how to be in one? For me, it’s been 21 years of trial and error.

As a child, I was raised by two people who were married on paper, but that’s about it. Never once did I see the two embrace each other, speak admirable words about each other, and rarely share the same bed. It was as though there was a mutual decision to survive together, but agreed that they were not in love.

Challenging life moments were met with either silence or argument. There were no discussions around the dinner table, holidays were decorated but absent of warmth, and fights were frequent.

Celebratory moments from my childhood felt half full. I watched this couple with the hope that my success would bring these two together. I wished to see them hug. To even look at each other and smile. But that never came.

So when I entered into my relationship at 18 years old with the man I call my husband today, the only thing I knew about relationships was from my parents and teenage TV shows like Dawson’s Creek. Needless to say, I was up a creek without a paddle.

Recently, I’ve started wondering- what would I tell my younger self to help prepare her for such a commitment? For nearly two decades of marriage? For sharing her life intimately with another person? I think I would tell her to master what I call “the 4 C’s of a healthy relationship”: conflict, communication, compromise, and commitment.

CONFLICT

Fights. Disagreements. Silent treatments. Yes, they all exist in relationships. No matter how compatible, mature, healthy, or educated you are, you are human. Plain and simple. And no two humans are ever the same. Spoiler alert: you WILL disagree. But it’s how you handle the disagreement that matters most because believe it or not, conflict can be healthy for a relationship.

It took me about 10 years to figure out how to “fight” with my husband. Because of my upbringing, all I knew how to do was either shut down or react. About a decade into my marriage, I got the most unexpected and impactful advice I’ve ever received in my adult life. Amid a highly emotional situation, an important role model sharply told me “You need to stop being so sensitive”. Initially, that remark struck me as offensive. “How dare you call me sensitive,” I thought.

But as the initial defensiveness wore off, I actually listened to the words. I reflected on my behavior. Why was I always so ready for a fight? Why was I so enamored with making my point known and being right? Why did I always become red with anger?

Those words, “stop being so sensitive” have completely grounded me. I now take a breath before reacting. I ask for space if I’m unable to communicate respectfully and clearly. I listen to understand, not to respond. I am far, far from perfect but simply understanding how to navigate conflict or disagreements has dramatically improved my connection with my husband. I have also learned the art of The Apology. “I’m sorry” can be the most powerful, beautiful words ever spoken.

COMMUNICATION

In my opinion, communication is the second most intimate part of a relationship, after physical intimacy. There is nothing like sharing your raw feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams with your partner.

Interestingly, the pandemic brought out a whole other level of growth to our relationship. Prior to the pandemic, we were in the throws of life. With full-time jobs and two young children, we accepted the idea that there was no time for just the two of us. We settled on a routine and at times, felt like two ships passing in the night. Spending one-on-one time together was tough. But my husband and I have always loved to talk. To talk about our day, talk about our future, and talk about our struggles. This was something we didn’t realize we missed.

But the pandemic allowed us to date again. We found a little brewery with outdoor seating down the road that we could sneak off to. And with nothing else to do, this became our new tradition. And we talked. A lot. We talked about everything- what to do with our future, memories from our younger years, the events of the world. There was no topic off-limits. We just talked and talked and talked. And we found the importance of dating again. We realized that we missed each other. That what we had in common is what made us fall in love in the first place. And as life settles back into some form of normalcy, my husband and I have agreed never to let life consume us and take this away from us again.

As my husband likes to say: “COVID tested us, and we passed”.

COMPROMISE

This one will be tough to explain without sounding crazy…. but here goes.

Sometimes you have to just let your partner win. I understand that this is an oxymoron. Letting someone “just win” is not an act of compromise. But once I found that I didn’t need to be so overprotective of my needs, I learned to trust. Really trust. So I let him take the lead on some things. And then, he followed suit. He saw me trying. And then, we kind of found this happy medium where we not only gave each other what the other needed, but we also subconsciously understood how to find something that made us both happy.

Compromise is not difficult when you feel safe. Loved. Respected. And trust your partner explicitly.

COMMITMENT

“The secret to a successful marriage is to never want a divorce at the same time”

I heard that quote many years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Trust me, decades of loving the same person will bring extremely challenging moments. Stress, loss, personal struggles, careers, children… any one of those can cause a huge rift in a marriage. I guarantee that at some point, giving up will seem easier than staying together. My biggest, most valuable, and vital tip: fight like hell for your relationship. Unless there is any form of abuse or unforgivable behavior, always, always choose each other.

What are the best ways to remain committed? Adventure together. Find a hobby you can share. Be intimate on a regular basis (even if you have a headache). And if you need it, go to therapy together. Grow, learn and care for each other.

My final thoughts- search for relationship role models. No matter the stage in your relationship (single, dating, married, etc), continue to expose yourself to healthy relationships. Healthy people. People that will support you and your commitment to your partner.

Now, 21 years later, I look back with adoration for the girl I was. It fills me with pride that though I had no tools in my relationship tool bag, I’m happily married to the same man who took a chance on me all those years ago.

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Written by : Heather Drury

I love writing to share helpful tips on dating and relationships. I believe everyone deserves a chance at meaningful connections. Through my blogs, I break down important topics into practical lessons, aiming to empower people with essential dating and relationship skills for a thriving personal life.

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