4 Healthy Relationship Habits to Improve Emotional Intimacy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The School of Life" by The School of Life. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Looking to learn some healthy relationship habits? How can you improve your emotional intimacy with your partner?

The authors of The School of Life argue that most healthy relationship habits have a foundation in emotional intelligence, which means your ability to understand how your and others’ emotions work. In the book, they explain four habits to learn for a healthy relationship, based on this principle.

Read on to discover these four habits for a healthy relationship, according to the advice in The School of Life.

Habits for a Healthy Relationship

According to The School of Life authors, we often fail to develop healthy relationship habits because most modern relationships have an unhealthy concept of love. The authors argue that our concept of love is almost completely defined by the 18th-century intellectual and artistic movement, Romanticism. The authors explain that Romanticism is a destructive approach to relationships, creating unrealistic expectations for intimate relationships and making it difficult to have healthy relationships.

To replace the destructive habits of Romanticism with more emotionally intelligent ones, the authors suggest four healthy relationship habits to learn, based on improving your emotional intelligence. 

#1: Embrace Compromise and Mundanity

We normally frown on compromise in relationships, but the authors write that often, to compromise with a partner is truly the best option available—better than finding a new living situation or source of income, or disrupting your child’s home life, for example. We should stop seeing compromise as pathetic and instead accept that it is a healthy habit in a relationship and that no situation is perfect. 

(Shortform note: You may have accepted that you’ll need to compromise in your relationship, but how do you compromise? It’s critical to communicate openly and clearly when discussing a compromise situation so that both parties’ needs are understood. Partners must also want the best for each other—no one should try to have their way at the expense of the other’s happiness. Finally, both partners must make a sacrifice for it to be a compromise—it can’t just be one person who’s giving everything up for the other.)

Additionally, we feel that in love, thinking or talking about mundane concerns—like the household, shared responsibilities, money, and so on—is unromantic and even inappropriate. We believe subconsciously that such concerns shouldn’t matter to people who are truly in love. But the authors argue that discussing such tedious questions isn’t only necessary, but is actually a sign of a strong relationship. The authors claim that this is a healthy habit in a relationship because, when you can talk about important but boring matters, there’s more harmony in your relationship.

(Shortform note: It’s true that long-term couples must eventually talk about the mundane details of their shared life and that doing this makes a relationship healthier. However, embracing mundanity likely makes it all the more important to keep some excitement in your relationship. You can do this by going out on dates regularly and by occasionally surprising each other. You should also remember to stay cordial with your long-term partner by saying “please” and “thank you.” This keeps you both from taking each other for granted.)

#2: Recognize Your and Their Flaws

To have a healthy relationship, develop the habit of acknowledging that you’re a flawed person who at times can be difficult to be around, insist the authors. This lets you take inevitable criticism from partners with more grace. Similarly, acknowledge that your partner is also deeply flawed. When they exhibit these flaws, think about how they might have developed in childhood and don’t hold your partner solely accountable for them. 

(Shortform note: This advice may seem sensible, but what happens if your partner doesn’t give you the same fair treatment? What if they refuse to acknowledge their own flaws but chide you for having yours? This could be a sign that you’re in a one-sided relationship. In one-sided relationships, it feels like you’re putting in all the effort to maintain it but get nothing in return. You may also feel that you’re walking on eggshells around your partner and have no sense of what they’re thinking or feeling. While such relationships can be repaired, it may be best to honestly assess if this is a union you want to stay in.)

#3: Reframe How You Think About Sex

We believe in our sexually liberated era that sex should be uncomplicated, easy, and fun if you do it “normally”: have only one committed partner, stick to common sexual practices, and so on. But a significant way to improve a relationship is to recognize that more often, sex is complicated. This is because humans have complicated needs and desires and are rarely satisfied with socially sanctioned sexual practices. The authors argue that this doesn’t mean that people who seek out such sex are atypical, but rather that our conception of “normal” sex and sexual desire is wrong. 

The authors note that many of the more taboo forms of sex (like oral, anal, and rough sex) are simply humans’ attempts to feel completely accepted, in all our darker shades, by a partner—they’re not abnormal or problematic. If someone can see all these parts of our bodies and needs without shying away, we feel completely understood by that person. 

#4: Argue More Constructively

A final way to have a more emotionally intelligent relationship is to develop new habits for having healthy, productive arguments, write the authors. Couples have countless unavoidable arguments but are never taught how to argue well, which could make those arguments more constructive and less tense. The authors’ recommendation for a variety of recurring arguments is to:

  1. Know yourself and your flaws as well as possible, as we’ve discussed. The more you know yourself, the less you’re guided by subconscious urges and needs, and the more control you have over yourself in arguments. 
  2. Learn how to communicate your thoughts more effectively to the other person. This helps avoid misunderstandings and keeps you both on the same page. 
  3. Remember that your partner, like you, is deeply flawed. Don’t expect them to be perfect and to understand you perfectly. 
Arguing for Insecure Attachers

Having a constructive argument might be especially hard if you have an anxious attachment to your partner, a concept described in Attached. People with an anxious attachment style crave intimacy with their partner but fear their partner doesn’t care about them and avoid saying things that might upset their partner. If this is the case, taking the below approaches to a conflict, in addition to the steps the authors list, might lead to the best outcomes.

First, when having disputes, always express an interest in what the other person wants and needs. Your happiness is contingent upon theirs, so make sure they feel heard and respected. Remembering that your partner is, like you, flawed, can also help you be more empathetic during this stage.

Then, don’t let the argument become about something unrelated. If you’re arguing about whose turn it is to wash the car, don’t bring up how your partner failed to mow the lawn last week. And be willing to share how you feel: Don’t expect your partner to intuit what’s going on in your head. Knowing yourself and learning how to communicate your thoughts well, as the authors suggest, can help with this. 

Finally, see the argument through to the end: Only this way will you be able to learn and come to a mutually satisfying resolution.
4 Healthy Relationship Habits to Improve Emotional Intimacy

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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