Health Tip – Valentine’s Day Special: Healthy Relationship Tips for Couples

Sarah McElhaney, L.M.F.T.

Sarah McElhaney, L.M.F.T.

By Sarah McElhaney, L.M.F.T., licensed marriage and family therapist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

February 2017 – The relationship with your partner could be one of the most important in your life, yet it is too easy to forget how vital it is to nurture the relationship daily. In the season of hearts and roses as symbols of love, I’d like to offer the following practical tips on how couples may improve their relationship, and overall quality of life:

  • Know your partner’s inner world. Regularly make time with your partner to tune into one another exploring and learning more about each other – from the big stuff like their hopes, dreams, and current goals to the details that make them unique – like their likes and dislikes. Make time, get generally curious, and ask open-ended questions.
  • Promote a positive relationship culture. Good relationships have a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative interactions (contrasted with almost 1:1 in struggling relationships). Point out what your partner is doing right and focus on expressing appreciation, fondness, affection, and respect regularly and in small, everyday moments.
  • Be available and responsive. Being consistently available and responsive to one another and each other’s needs creates a sense trust and an emotional safety net that can be helpful when weathering times of stress. It answers our most basic underlying needs for connection, “Are you there for me? Do I matter?”
  • valentines dayManage conflict calmly and effectively. Conflict is inevitable in relationships. And in couple relationships, 69 percent of problems are “perpetual” problems that are often “unsolvable.” Couples that do well at managing conflict address these areas calmly, have conversations about them that often does not focus on “solving the problem” but rather accepting each other’s influence and positions.
  • Recognize the early signs of relationship distress and seek guidance early. The research is clear — couples generally tend to wait too long before seeking couples therapy (on average an entire six years from when they first began noticing problems), but two of the most important factors for couples doing well in therapy is their motivation level and timing.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center offers couples therapy along with a broad range of mental health services for children, adolescents, adults, couples and families through 26 licensed clinicians. For more information, please visit our website: To schedule an appointment, call 515-274-4006 or email

(Tips are adapted by the research and practice from Gottman Method Couples Therapy and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, both research and evidenced-based models for couple’s therapy)