The R’s of Healthy Relationships

There are results of secure connection: accessibility, responsiveness and engagement.

When I’m working with a couple and they’re completing therapy I notice the movements in their dance of connection and what dance steps they make safely together.

I also think about secure connection being maintained by specific moves that denote accessibility, responsiveness and engagement. I call these moves the R’s of Healthy Relationships. In healthy couples, each person is able to emotionally reach, receive, reveal, recognize, request, respond to requests, report and reconnect.

Adult love is reciprocal

As couples heal, I’ve noticed not only is each person accessible, responsive and engaged but they have a combined ability to execute distinct 2-step “dance” moves. These moves are an interpersonal or interactional sequence. For each two-step move the lead/follow role is executed by each partner, thus making the 2-step reciprocal. It’s the reciprocity that seems to maintain balance and make the couple healthy. When there’s reciprocity, both partners are not only able to execute each move, but they are able to take turns in the “lead” and “follow” positions. So, there is not one partner who is the only initiator in the 2-step move. In reciprocity both partners share the role of initiator.

If you combine the R’s into a 2-step move you can see the roles each partner needs to take to complete the sequence. For there to be movement, signals need to be sent and received.  As one reaches (leads the step) the other receives the reach (follows the move). Wives need to be able to reach and have the husband receive as well as have the husband reach so the wife can receive, and vice versa. Each needs to reach, and each needs to receive the other’s reaching for connection to happen. But, for the relationship to be truly reciprocal (balanced and healthy) both members of the couple need to be able to lead and follow each 2-step move.

Here are the roles and moves that create these 2-step sequences of healthy relationships:


1. Reach (Lead)   and   Receive (Follow)

The first two-step move begins when one partner is distressed, hurting, and in need of attention or comfort. The other partner reaches out, unsolicited, to provide comfort or support. To reach is to move towards with compassion, having seen the need. It is a giving from the heart to assist the distress. The reach could be in the form of a hug, words of acknowledgement, understanding or sharing the burden. For the couple to complete this move successfully, the other must receive the compassion and accompanying acts of kindness.

2. Reveal (Lead) and Recognize (Follow)

The second two-step is reveal and recognize. When one partner reveals primary emotion the other (through the therapist promoting acceptance) is able to recognize the gift of sharing. When couples are becoming healthier their ability to reveal and recognize the revealing continues to grow.

3. Request (Lead) and Respond (Follow)

The third two-step move is also one I emphasize a lot in couples therapy.  Requesting for unmet emotional needs to be met and the partner then responding to the request. The request is about unmet connection needs such as acceptance, belonging, comfort or safety (what I call the ABC’S of attachment). In happy couples each are able to REQUEST AND RESPOND to attachment/emotional love needs much easier. Couples who are able to do this grow together and their relationship gets stronger as time goes on.

4. Report (Lead) and Reconnect (Follow)

The final two-step, REPORT and RECONNECT, is a move that  shows up in John Gottman’s research in happily married couples. This is more of a head level than a heart level 2-step. It’s the sharing of status updates, such as, what’s happening in our lives and maintaining a mental map of each other’s activities. Reporting and Reconnecting can also become an attachment ritual that gets developed as couples heal from distress and stay connected.

Even when couples are great at these moves, we will misstep at times and need to REPAIR. To paraphrase Dr. Sue Johnson, when we dance in close proximity we are bound to step on each other’s toes. When we misstep we need to make repair and get back to resonating with each other. Healthy couples do this by utilizing one of these two-step moves: Reach and Receive ( “I see I hurt your feelings”, “That’s okay, I know you didn’t mean to”), REVEAL AND RECOGNIZE (“I’m feeling badly about how that went between us”, “I understand why that felt bad, I’m sorry.”) or REQUEST AND RESPOND (“Will you come hold me, I’m afraid you’re not feeling good about me right now”, “Oh, sure, we’re okay, it was just one of those bad moments. I love you”).

As you master the moves of healthy relationships, you’ll develop an ability to do one more thing together – REJOICE!  And that’s something really wonderful to experience.

If you have questions or want to learn how to do these things, email me about my 12-week Marriage Transformation Program. I’d love to help you dance happily with your partner.

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