Top 10 Unusual Tips for a Healthy Relationship...

Top 10 Unusual Tips for a Healthy Relationship

As a couples therapist who desperately needs a break from social media (like everyone else), I know finding actually good relationship tips online can be…

Frustrating.

You try to escape the same-y relationship advice from your friends, parents, or Instagram feed, only to search “healthy relationship” and find 20 ai-written articles recycling the same 5 ideas.

Communication skills. Compromise. Quality time. Alone time. Appreciation.

And look—it’s not like those are bad things for a couple to practice (heck, Empathi has a whole Appreciation Exercise!)

But they’re certainly not going to fundamentally change your relationship.

These Top 10 Unusual Tips for a Healthy Relationship can’t beat couples therapy, but they will challenge the way you see yourself, your partner, and your relationship together.

Or improve your relationship, one prompt at a time.

Receive these 10 relationship tips as weekly prompts instead.

A fire from a fireplace blocks the face of a woman, as the man sitting next to her stares into the fire.

1. Stop trying to shake off your uncomfortable feelings.

Sometimes, running for the hills is perfectly logical…

Like when your online date is giving you the creeps, or your job isn’t paying you enough, or it’s 1938 and you’re a musical family with 7 children escaping a newly Nazi-occupied Austria.

The von Trapp family from the Sound of Music trek up a hill.

So when you’re feeling lonely, sad, powerless, rejected, or any number of icky, uncomfortable emotions… 

it makes total sense you’d try to run from them as quickly as possible!!

Thing is, when it comes to feelings? What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.

Famed psychoanalyst (and guy big on the “inner world”) Carl Jung is… rumored to have said that.

I can’t confirm where that saying actually comes from, but I can confirm, after thousands of hours with couples therapy clients, that emotions are not a hill to be climbed…

They’re a wave.

If you never dive in, your uncomfortable, “negative” feelings about yourself, your partner, and your neighbor’s dog will rise to the shore again. 

And again. And again.

And you can’t outrun those waves forever. 

In fact, every time you try, your real feelings will leak out anyway! 

The ways you try to escape those feelings—avoidance, shifting blame, minimizing—they land on your partner negatively…

So you’ve just gotta learn to swim!

Here are some steps that should help you feel your feelings better:

Step 1: Take a deep breath.

Slow down that heart rate a bit. Settle your nervous system.

Step 2: Stop resisting.

Try your best not to “get over it” or “shake it off.” Don’t try to push the feeling that’s making you uncomfortable away.

Step 3: Look closer.

Give some attention to the feeling—what are you experiencing in your body? What other feelings does it bring up?

Step 4: Accept your feeling.

The feelings are happening whether you like it or not. Try to actually be nice to yourself about it!!

Look, this isn’t easy.

It’s almost as difficult as finding the true source of the quote, “What you resist, persists.”

But as Carl Jung did say

“We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

Do you really want to have a healthier relationship?

Then you’re going to have to be more kind and accepting of yourself, your feelings, and your partner.

You both deserve it.

A couple, two women, argue as one woman puts her face in her hand.

2. The way you talk about the problem is the problem.

When something feels wrong in a relationship—you feel frustrated, disconnected, you disagree about how to pack a dishwasher…

Whatever the “problem” is, most people do exactly the WRONG thing…

They ask their partner to change.

“But Figs, I’m not trying to change who they are, I just think we’d both be happier if they changed this one tiny little thing!!

I hear you!

But they won’t. They can’t!

Think about it—when someone tells YOU to be different, especially in the middle of a fight, do you just accept that feedback with an open heart and get to changing?

Or do you protest? Defend yourself before the high counsel? Blame, punish, or resent them in turn?

Because it’d make total sense if you did!!

Every time you tell your partner they’ve done something wrong, it sends a message to their organism that’s millions of years in the making that they’re in danger.

You’re their person and they’ve disappointed you. They’ve let you down.

When we were babies, your “good enough other” leaving meant death. And your body remembers.

So what does your partner do when they’re in danger of you leaving because they let you down? They protect themselves.

…In ways that will end up hurting you more.

The problem is not the problem.

The problem is that something about the problem HURTS.

But in asking your partner to change, you’ve only hurt them back.

So what can you do instead?

Step 1: Uncover your vulnerable feelings about the problem.

Step 2: Understand how they are a result of your partner being so important to you.

Step 3: Share both of those things.

Here’s an example: 

I feel sad that you didn’t come home until nine. I missed you because spending time with you is so important to me.”

Remember: You don’t need to ask for your partner to change to meet your needs.

You just need to share some of those very scary vulnerable feelings.

A couple hold hands, facing away from each other as if wanting to connect.

3. Stop bitchin’ and start connecting!

Yeah, your partner can be a HUGE jerk sometimes.

I mean, that one particular thing they did… what were they even thinking??

But before we go full “Alice in Wonderland,” jump down the rabbit hole of blame, and “spill the tea,” I’m gonna let you in on a little secret… 

Sometimes, you’re a real jerk, too!

Alice from Alice in Wonderland is shocked she's a jerk in relationship sometimes. She exclaims, "Oh my goodness!"

In fact, when your partner or spouse is being a jerk, you’re probably ALSO being kind of a jerk. And when you’re being a jerk, well—it’s only because they were being a jerk first!!

The truth is, you’re both going to behave poorly in love sometimes.

And it’s not because you’re bad people or you’re not right for each other…

You’re both just hurting inside. 

Remember that big, scary vulnerable feeling you’ve gotten great at identifying and sharing in tips 1 and 2?

…The one where you’re really just afraid the person you love isn’t there for you or sees you as a disappointment?

Your partner is feeling that, too.

It might look different than yours—if you’re afraid of being abandoned, they’re probably afraid of being rejected, and vice versa—and they might have other jerk-ish ways of defending or protecting themselves…

but you both just wanna be connected.

And if you can both see that you BOTH can be jerks, but it’s just because being disconnected from each other hurts so much…

Well that’s probably the most important perspective shift you can make to have a healthy relationship.

A couple sit at a picnic as one partner faces away, upset, and the other looks at her unhappily.

4. Stop blaming your partner for all your flippin’ pain.

Did you know that your expectations directly shape your experience?

Not in a new age “manifest your destiny” way, but neurologically? Down to the way you see, taste, and experience time?

And it doesn’t stop there.

Imagine that, instead of carrying around every single tool it has all day, your brain creates little bags of the stuff you might need for any given situation, and hands them out as you go.

So you have a bag you carry to work, filled with stuff like “How to write an email” and “Your boss’ daughter’s name.”

You have a math bag. A sports bag. A driving bag. A parenting bag.

You have a bag for high school friends you haven’t seen in ages that you dust off, open up, and then you find yourself doing voices and making the kinds of jokes you haven’t in years.

It’s a really efficient system!

Until you absentmindedly text your boss “Yo.” after a 3 hour conversation with an old buddy.

Oops!

Thing is, you don’t always get to say what bag you use, when, or which tools you get to take out.

Especially when you’re in a relationship.

All of this is to say that you’ve got a big ol bag o’wounds that you open every time you get hurt…

And that influences your experience a heck of a lot more than what your partner just did.

This bag is where you collect all the little and big painful moments in your life. It’s where you keep your negative stories about others and yourself. It’s where you keep your coping mechanisms.

And every time something painful happens, you open it up…

and your old pain comes spilling out and multiplying like bunnies with your new pain.

So, yes. 

Your partner really DID hurt your feelings.

But chances are, “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical.”

Because of your big bag o’ wounds, a size 2 offense has the power to create a size 18 response in you and take one or both of you by surprise.

So if you want to have a healthier relationship, instead…

Step 1: Stop telling your "Story of Other"

No more, “OUCH – I hurt because of YOU!”

Step 2: Start telling your "Experience of Self"

Try, “OUCH – something painful inside me just burst to the surface (and it really flippin’ hurts and is all-consuming to be honest!)…”

Step 3: Put it into historical context

“…AND I really get that your behavior is just the spark that ignited my pain.”

A couple sits together on the couch, focusing on different things and avoiding conflict.

5. Stop avoiding conflict!

You and your partner will have arguments. You will hurt each other’s feelings. You will feel disconnected in your relationship.

This is non-negotiable.

Conflict is not only a normal part of being in a happy relationship, but a necessary one.

I know—this flies in the face of what pretty much every atom of your body wants to be experiencing!

So before you can get why it’s necessary for a living, breathing, healing relationship with your partner, you have to understand what conflict really is

Conflict can look like:

Conflict is ANY kind of friction between you and your partner, even when you don’t raise your voices or talk about it at all! 

WHATEVER it is, conflict is triggered by disconnection.

And disconnection hurts!!

Because you’re important to each other, disconnection will always poke that bag o’ wounds from tip #4.

And then because you’re trying to protect yourself, you’ll start to behave like the jerks in tip #3… and BOOM. 

Conflict.

But what if you DIDN'T have conflict…?

Door #1: Your wish is granted… A RELATIONSHIP WITH NO CONFLICT EVER.

No rules of the universe have been changed, and human nature is the same. 

You still carry around your bags o’ wounds, and it’s still impossible to NEVER become disconnected from someone.

If you love someone, your relationship matters. 

If your relationship matters, disconnection hurts.

If you’ve gotten hurt from disconnection, you’ll get into conflict.

So that means, the only way to NEVER have conflict… is to take out the love.

Not much of a wish, is it?

Door #2: Your worst nightmare comes true… A RELATIONSHIP WITH CONFLICT.

Oof. Your partner is upset or distant, you feel awful. 

So you both protest this feeling by tearing into each other’s bag o’ wounds, and your past and present pain is biting and mixing and swirling around each other in an unending tornado of terribleness!!!

But wait… 

What if you could quiet the storm? What if you actually could see your partner’s wounds and how vulnerable they are because you’re so, so important to them?

What if your partner saw YOUR suffering, hiding underneath the ways you protest, and comforted you in that vulnerable place?

Wow. Not only did you survive, but the hurting, vulnerable parts of you both just received some lovin’.

This can happen in your relationship all the time.

The mark of a healthy relationship is NOT that you never fight.

The “magic” you’re looking for to heal your connection can’t be found by avoiding fights and not saying when you’re triggered or upset.

The magic is in the repair.

A man and a woman sit with their backs to us on a bench looking out at an imperfect but beautiful view.

6. Your longing for perfection is the enemy.

Be honest… Do you ever wonder if your partner is actually the one?

If they were REALLY “meant for you,” wouldn’t they be movie-star hot? Funnier?

…Wouldn’t they have the same political opinions? Clean up more? Make more money? Stop hogging the blanket?!?

If you have, you’re not the only one.

But the truth is, 99.99999% of the time…

Mx. Right is the one right in front of you!

And your fixation on all the ways it could be better may actually be what’s holding your relationship back.

Ever hear, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”?? When it comes to relationships, “good enough” is actually the gold standard

And while you’re busy dreaming about your dream partner JLO or your favorite “Chris,” there’s a real, live, flawed human longing to be connected with you!

So how do you give your expectations a rest?

Ask yourself these questions:

If you want the relationship of your dreams, don’t let your longing for perfection get in the way… 

Follow this relationship tip and try doing your own emotional work instead! 

And then go connect with your just “good enough” partner who longs to be with just “good enough” you.

Two women sit against a wall, looking away from each other.

7. It doesn’t matter who started it!

Everybody loves a whodunnit.

Some clients sit on the proverbial therapist’s couch for the first time and expect me to be the detective in “Knives Out,” asking the perfect questions to determine who is REALLY to blame…

Detective Benoit Blanc sits and stares in contemplation, as if judging a couple to see who is to blame.
To start with, Detective Blanc dresses a lot snazzier than me.

“Oh, my dear client. Isn’t it true that it was, in fact, YOU who set the relationship ablaze?!”

It’s a tempting fantasy.

Even with all this profound relationship wisdom filling my head, I STILL get stuck doing “detective work” in my relationship with my wife Teale!

As someone built to detect signs that “I’m not good enough,” when I get hurt, I assemble aaaall the little clues that indicate that Teale thinks I’m a disappointment.

Then, the prosecution begins. 

I charge her with the crime of being MEAN and I withdraw

I have to protect myself—after all, she’s a relationship criminal!

But then Teale starts mounting her defense and pressing her own charges.

She decides I’m UNCARING, so she criticizes me.

So I have to defend myself more!

So on and on we go… 

And you know what the saddest part is?

We don’t WANT to punish each other. We want to be connected!! We want to feel loved and to love each other up!!!

Who started it isn’t important.

Solving your own particular relationship whodunnit won’t fix your relationship.

Even when there’s a big betrayal—we gotta spend way more time with the hurt caused than the “betrayer” would like, but the destination is the same: An “everybody wins” solution.

Instead of placing blame, try…

A couple is laughing as the woman holds the man on her shoulders.

8. Your need for love is not a weakness.

One of the first things we learn about being a human is that we feel pain for a reason.

The first time you ever touched something too hot for your little hands, your body taught you, “OUCH. Don’t do that! That’s bad for us!!!”

So how did we forget that when it comes to love?

When you were just an infant and left all alone—your mom, dad, or other caretaker out of sight—your tiny heart ached more than it ever had, and compelled you to cry out…

“OUCH. Don’t leave me! I need you to survive!!!”

With humans, it’s survival of the loved.

Our organisms have been wired for love by millions of years of evolution.

In the early years of our lives, we NEEDED a “good enough” person or community to take care of us or we would be lunchmeat!

And that need to be bonded with a good enough other never actually goes away…

We just get better at burying the voice that goes, “OUCH” at the pain of disconnection. 

But that voice knows what it’s talking about.

In fact, it’s made us the most advanced species on the planet.

All the perks of the modern world that make you think you don’t need anybody—central heating, Netflix, Doordash—only exist because humans are social animals that are better than Earth’s other creatures at connecting and learning from each other.

Do you know how to make a lightbulb on your own?? Because I sure don’t!

We don’t feel shame when we NEED sustenance, shelter, and to not be eaten by bears, so why feel ashamed when we NEED love and connection?

Your need for an emotional bond isn’t a weakness, it’s the greatest strength of the human race.

Here's how you can start listening to it again:

Step 1: Surrender to the fact that you need people.

Stop fighting your biology and accept that you are not an island.

Step 2: When you feel abandoned or rejected, name what it really is.

Your body is telling you that the little social creature inside you needs a primary other to love you, accept you, and be there for you.

Step 3: Listen to what your organism wants!

Seek out connection with your partner, family, friends, or even your community.

Goldfish sitting alone in a bowl in the forest.

9. Your Proficiencies are the Enemy of Intimacy.

Sometimes it feels like long term relationships exist to make us feel like fish out of water.

Not only do they scrape at us like sand stuck in all the little vulnerable places we didn’t know existed…

But those skills that make you a big shot Olympic swimmer in every other aspect of your life?

They’re probably making your love life harder.

To understand, imagine that you’re a fish…

Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" (animated version) extends her hand through a hole in the sea ground, longing to be a human.
Kind of a reverse-Ariel situation.

Your friends are fish, your parents are fish, your partner’s a fish, and I’m definitely a fish.

And we all grew up in our own unique family fishbowls.

In order to thrive in our fishbowls, we all become the BEST at adapting to all its good, bad, and neutral quirks.

So crowded bowls might make colorful fish.

Clear bowls might make fish that blend in.

Bowls with sharks create spikey puffer fish and bowls with spikes create fish with thick skin.

Let’s say your bowl was filled with crashing caverns, so you learned to stay slippery…

But your partner’s fishbowl was vast and empty, so they learned to swim fast…

And you’re both proud of these skills!

Your partner pushes for what they want—an ambitious career! You stay flexible, adapting to any situation—like making new friends!

But then you create a fishbowl of your own.

Two goldfish jump from their respective family fishbowls into one shared fishbowl.

And all those proficiencies just start getting in the way.

Your partner will think, “That’s odd, why are they running to solve a problem instead of coming to comfort me?” 

So they’ll “go after what they want” by criticizing you. 

“That’s strange, why are they criticizing me when I was just adapting to what we need?” 

So you’ll “stay flexible” by shutting down and telling them to just do whatever they want, then.

At some point, your partner swimming toward you will feel like caverns crashing, and you slipping out of their grasp will feel like distance.

And all of this is compounded by the fact that you are likely to be paired with someone who has opposite proficiencies to you.

So, you need to learn some new skills.

If every time you experience relationship difficulties, you run back to the same old skillset—as impressive as it may be!—your relationship is going to suffer.

You’re already in a new fishbowl.

It’s time to step out of your comfort zone, let go of your proficiencies, and try connecting with your partner from a place of real vulnerability and growth.

(…Okay, it’s safe to stop picturing yourself as a fish.)

A couple looking at each other in the eyes in front of the ocean.

10. If you’re trying to get it right in love, you’re getting it wrong.

“But Figs, isn’t the point of this list to help me get love right??”

Nope!

Let's review what we've learned from all these healthy relationship tips…

Which part says you need to be perfect?

This article exists to help you better understand yourself, your partner, and how your relationship works, and to help you start to put it all into practice.

…But then you both have to make lots of mistakes!

Get it wrong.

Get scared. Get embarrassed. Get annoyed. React poorly. Say the “wrong” thing. 

Then get up and put your insights into practice again.

You could try to be perfect, but what’s the point?

Trying to “get it right” in your relationship—even by carefully following this article—won’t work, because that’s not the real you!!

The REAL you…

…the jerk,

…the homosapien wired for love,

…the one carrying around a big bag o’ wounds,

…the fish out of water with skills and quirks that shape who you are,

…the vulnerable little one inside and the big “grown up” who protects them,

THEY’RE the ones asking for love.

Hiding who you are only keeps all the parts of you that need to be loved up safe from actually getting that connection. 

Remember: “If we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.

Connection requires vulnerability.

That means you have to be seen: flaws, wounds, weaknesses, mistakes…

All of it.

The vulnerable you is a lovable you.

It’s NOT easy, and being able to accept yourself well enough to do that requires a lot of practice.

But it’s exactly what you (and the world around you) need.

Be kind to yourself and each other,

Figs

Share this article

Figs is the creator of the Empathi method and the certification process for Empathi coaches. He’s also Chief Empathi Officer, husband, dad, wounded-healer and was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered as a champion for healthy relationships. Figs’ life’s mission is to help couples feel more connected.

Related Articles

a disconnected couple looking away from each other

Is Couples Therapy a Bad Sign? 7 Truths to Consider

Whether you’re going through a rough patch, have a history of conflict, or just want to improve and deepen your connection, here are 7 truths to help you determine if couples therapy is a bad sign for you.

Can couples therapy help a toxic relationship? This couple demonstrates that it can, with their happy faces chatting away on a couples therapy couch.

Can Couples Therapy Help A Toxic Relationship?

Yes. In fact, according to A Review of the Research in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples, the initial level of relationship distress has no impact on the likelihood of success.

Scroll to Top
Share "Top 10 Unusual Tips for a Healthy Relationship"