Committed relationships: the key to a happy life

Written by: Dr Kerry Ashton-Shaw
Edited by: Aoife Maguire

Committed, close, happy relationships are proven to have a positive impact on longevity, well-being, productivity and immune function. These relationships are beneficial and make life worth living.


The big question is, how do we become a part of a happy and committed romantic relationship? This is a complex question, however, fortunately, psychologists have been researching this topic for many years. Highly experienced and trusted consultant clinical psychologist Dr Kerry Ashton-Shaw explains the benefits and ingredients of committed relationships.




What is the importance of friendship in a relationship?


A relationship founded on strong friendship means the couple are more likely to cope with the ups and downs of a long-term relationship. This means knowing your partner well – their likes and dislikes and personality quirks or unique talents. Being aware and sensitive to your partner’s inner world; knowing what is making them happy or what is stressing them out. It is crucial to maintain fondness, empathy and respect towards your partner.


When watching a couple who have a strong friendship foundation, you will often see them making small gestures to one and other, that invite connection – even if they are doing different activities. For example, one partner may laugh out loud at a YouTube clip, and the other partner will be interested in what they are laughing at. You will also be able to notice that playfulness and humour are part of these relationships.


Is it normal to have conflict in a healthy relationship?


Healthy relationships aren’t always positive, but both partners can recognise this and work on the negatives. Criticising, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling are not a major feature in healthy committed relationships. You can see couples in these relationships tending to have a positive attitude to each other that will override the natural downs in any relationship, meaning that even when one partner behaves in a way that is momentarily experienced as negative by her partner (i.e. playing on x-box when you had planned to spend time together), the positive attitude towards each other helps move through this momentary negative experience.


If in conflict, this couple will tend to stay calm and manage their emotions and stay open to understanding each other’s point of view. There is also the repair after conflict. This can look like a partner apologising for hurting another’s feelings, conceding a point or using some appropriate humour: “I’m sorry I was on the X-box for so long, and you felt hurt -  you know I’m crazy for you” (sings Crazy for You by Madonna or something more timely!)


What is shared meaning in a relationship?


Shared meaning refers to the couple working to create meaning and purpose to their relationship. Partners support each other and help make each other’s dreams come true. The couple build up shared traditions, roles and rituals within their relationship.


The big question – why are healthy committed relationships easier for some people than others? Why do some people just seem ‘better’ at this type of stuff? And what about those of us who find this stuff more difficult? 


The answer seems to lie in our brains! From before birth, at a neurobiological level, the ‘hard wiring’ for forming and maintaining relationships with others (and ourselves) is developing.




If you would like to book a consultation with Dr Ashton-Shaw, simply visit her Top Doctors profile today.

By Dr Kerry Ashton-Shaw

Dr Kerry Ashton-Shaw is highly knowledgeable and committed consultant clinical psychologist based in Liverpool. She has extensive experience working with adults, children, adolescents, and their families. She has a special interest in developmental and complex trauma.

Dr Ashton-Shaw currently offers specialist psychological assessment, formulation (a psychological understanding) and intervention for a wide range of mental health and emotional issues. Her current areas of work include treating depression and low mood, anxiety (OCD, health, phobias), low self-esteem, PTSD, and trauma, C-PTSD, stress, unusual experiences (hearing and seeing things that other people can't), overwhelming emotions, deliberate self-harm, relational difficulties, chronic pain, hoarding, and behavioural problems.

Offering parenting/carer support is also a significant part of her expertise. Furthermore, at her Liverpool practice, Dr Ashton-Shaw works with victims and survivors of abuse, including domestic, financial and sexual abuse. She works with a range of therapies and adapts her approach to the needs of each individual client. She is an expert in therapeutic approaches including EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing), DDP (dyadic developmental psychotherapy), CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) and CAT (cognitive analytic therapy).

In previous NHS posts, Dr Ashton-Shaw has supported the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Programmes at Liverpool, Lancaster, and Manchester Universities. She offered trainee clinical psychologists’ placements and lectured as part of the child and adolescent academic programmes. Dr Ashton-Shaw has completed The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics™ (NMT) Training Certification through the Phase I level. She appeared as the on-screen expert on C4s Britain's Biggest Hoarders and is currently working with the Family Stability Network FASTN.

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