If you want to know how to have a healthy relationship, makes sense to ask people who seem to have them, right? Sure, but practicing what you preach is no small feat: We tell our friends to communicate openly with their partner but let our own resentment stew over time. We tell a coworker not to let wedding planning cause arguments at home but throw a hissy fit when our fiancé suggests salmon as a dinner option. We tell anyone with ears not to go back to their ex, but our 1 a.m. Instagram DMs tell a different story as to what we actually believe. But then again, not all of us are relationship therapists, right?
Knowing how to have a healthy relationship is something many people claim to be able to do, but it may be most wise to put our faith in an expert. So, below, get four tips straight from the source, sex and relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD, who shares the four specific rules by which she abides to keep her own marriage healthy.
1. Maintain an active sex life
It’s easy to fall into a habit of passing out while watching The Crown in bed. After all, sustaining the same level of horniness common to the honeymoon phase is pretty tough. Still, keeping that connection (and excitement) alive means closing your laptop every once in a a while.
“He and I both agree that when we are maintaining our erotic life, everything just works better between us.” —relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD
“I make sure we have a continuous, rigorous, and exciting sex life,” Dr. Nelson says. “I know the importance of having sex, even when we don’t feel like it, because we’re tired, or arguing, or feeling distant. He and I both agree that when we are maintaining our erotic life, everything just works better between us.”
2. Ignore the old adage to ‘never go to bed angry’
While I enjoy the sentiment of not letting someone stew in unresolved tension overnight, Dr. Nelson says “never” and “always” are tricky words in any sense regarding a relationship. Furthermore, after a long time together, it’s sometimes not practical to “fix” things before you hit the hay.
“That may have worked in the beginning of our relationship,” Dr. Nelson says. “Frankly, if we tried to work through every argument and frustration today and heal everything, talk about all our petty resentments and get all of our anger out before bedtime, I would never get any sleep. Sometimes just sleeping on it means we get up in the morning refreshed and whatever was bothering us the night before just doesn’t seem that important.”
So while going to bed angry isn’t ideal, sometimes you really could just use a reset to move on from the problem at hand.
3. Check in and ask how their day is going
“This seems like a no-brainer, but when you’ve been together for a while, or if you travel for work like I do, or live bi-coastally, like we do, checking in and really listening to the other person talk about their daily issues, both positive and negative, can keep the connection going,” Dr. Nelson says.
So, aim to unwind with a daily recap over dinner or after putting the kids to bed or on the phone if you’re not physically together. And don’t neglect the power of those “How is your day going?” texts.
4. Kiss each other—a lot
Dr. Nelson has already identified the power of keeping your bedroom life fresh and interesting, but what’ll really keep your relationship strong and youthful is indulging in an old-fashioned make-out sesh.
“Kissing is sometimes more intimate than having sex,” Dr. Nelson. “We like kissing each other still, after all this time. So we practice, and try to get better, and tell each other how much we enjoy it. It only gets better with time. I recommend it.”
On that note, I’m going to go pick up some Tic Tacs, stat.
Need some more expert relationship advice? Make sure to ask your partner six essential questions before getting married. And here are the four forbidden phrases for arguments, according to relationship experts.