Relationship success doesn’t come from grand gestures or declarations. What keeps a relationship strong and enduring is far more related to the work you put in. It’s about developing and maintaining a secure-functioning relationship and finding a partner that you can feel safe and open with.
Defining a secure-functioning relationship
According to PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy) co-founder Dr. Stan Tatkin, a secure-functioning relationship is an interpersonal system based on principles of true mutuality, collaboration, justice, fairness, and sensitivity. Partners stand together against the world and protect each other. A secure-functioning relationship acknowledges and celebrates your differences in mind, history, and drive. It relies on interdependence, where both partners take up the burden and care of each other in equal measure.
The benefits of secure-functioning
There are many benefits to a secure-functioning relationship. A secure-functioning relationship means you have an inherent knowledge of always having support from your partner. True mutuality, in turn, means you’re also truly seen and understood by your partner.
Hurts are repaired quickly for the benefit and care of both partners. You both chose a survival teammate, so you know your partner has your back and will protect you when needed.
A secure-functioning relationship is based on clearly defined boundaries. Understanding and respecting these boundaries for both partners breeds safety, security, interdependence, support, and happiness in your relationship.
These benefits create a healthy relationship foundation on which your connection can grow and thrive into long-term happiness.
Building a safe and secure relationship
Any long-lasting relationship requires consistent effort and energy input. It’s an on-going task to build and maintain the structure of your relationship. Regardless of which boundaries, rules, practices, and habits you build into your relationship, these behaviours should reflect you and your partner and guide you in taking care of the foundation of your relationship.
Here are 3 PACT relationship essentials to help you build a strong foundation with your partner:
1. Be present with your partner
It’s easy to drift away from your partner amid the demands of everyday life. It may be effortless to run parallel to each other, taking on roles of taxi driver or life manager instead of intimate loving partner. Your energy and communication centre around what needs to get done rather than one another. For example, when you will be home, what time to pick the kids up, which bills still need to be paid.
Taking the time to be present with your partner and in your relationship is a counterbalance to the busy pace of life. It’s crucial to make time for just each other, with no distractions and no technology.
Gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes every day for at least 30 seconds – and longer is even better. The goal is to be mentally and emotionally present, as this has a profound neurobiological effect that allows you to calm each other’s nervous system. This activity also amplifies positive feelings toward each other, evoking earlier phases of your relationship, where you likely did this without prompting.
2. Quickly repair after a fight
Even the strongest couples have disagreements and fights, but what distinguishes them is the decision to make amends after a dispute promptly. When you prioritise repairing after a row, you fix the hurt, relinquish resentments, and focus on enjoying life again.
Neurobiologically, it’s vital to repair after a fight swiftly. Otherwise, painful experiences and emotions can get coded into your long-term memory system, which can make recovering from future conflicts and disagreements more difficult.
How can you effectively repair after a fight?
· Listen to your partner
· Use empathy
· Validate their feelings and thoughts
· Take responsibility for your part in the problem
· Sincerely apologise
The delivery of your apology is paramount. Facing your partner directly and gazing lovingly into their eyes with a soft facial expression and a song-like cadence to your voice helps prevent agitation and arousal in your partner. In turn, this aids in their acceptance of your repair.
3. Remain tethered to each other
We are wired to be connected to others. So, it’s important to be available for and respond to your partner when they indicate they need you – this shows that they’re able to connect with you. Without this connection, your partner is liable to experience pain and distress.
Cutting off communication, shutting down, and withdrawing can be harmful to your relationship in both big and small ways. For instance, your partner initiates a conversation with you, but you’re focused on something else and not actively listening to them. Your partner will likely feel annoyed about not receiving your full attention and may abandon the attempt to connect with you.
A common way to deal with hurt in an argument is to shut down. This reaction is an attempt to protect your feelings or punish your partner, but it undermines the safety and security of your relationship. It’s an active step that fights against the person who has your back.
It’s your role to protect each other. This includes protecting your partner from yourself.
Make a point to be available for contact when you’re separate from each other. This doesn’t mean communication from your partner takes priority over everything, but it does mean you can be relied upon to connect when you have free time. Check-ins throughout the day help in maintaining safety and security in your relationship.
In all crucial matters, you need to be each other’s first resort. Don’t let other areas of your life infringe on your partner or relationship.
Relationship essentials are significantly more impactful to your relationship than occasional gestures and symbols. A secure-functioning relationship based on PACT principles provides safety and security for both partners. Developing and maintaining these practices continually contribute to long-term relationship happiness.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.