The “Four Pistons” of a Healthy Relationship

This is a guest post from John Kim, LMFC:

Imagine that your relationship is an engine.  And just because you have one, doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere.  So in order for this engine to move, the pistons need to be pumping.  There are four pistons of a relationship: trust, communication, chemistry, and connection.


Trust is not a given.  It has to constantly be earned.  We do this by building a safe container for the other person.  It requires honesty with the partner but also with yourself.  People think of trust in terms of commitment and being faithful.  But trust means much more.

One example of broken trust is when a guy doesn’t have the ability to say no.  If he’s too nice and always trying to please her, she won’t trust him because he’s not being a leader, or providing a safe space for growth.  Another example is if you’re not being supportive in one’s journey.  And always making it about you.

So, in order for the trust piston to be continuously pumping, you have to constantly build trust.  There will be times when trust is broken and you will be riding on three pistons.  But that trust needs to be rebuilt if you want the most out of this engine/the relationship.


Both verbal and non-verbal.  The communication conduit must always be flowing.  This means it can’t be clogged.  Clogged means holding feelings inside which turn into anger and resentment.  Without communication, you’re leaving them in the dark, and creating an excuse to drift.  Many don’t communicate because they are afraid or because they don’t know how.  You must confront, explore, and work on your fears. Communicate what you’re experiencing with your partner.

Communication doesn’t mean verbally vomiting on your partner.  Healthy communication means expressing yourself but also being aware of how that expression is going to affect the other person.  Healthy communication means trying to understand before being understood.  Constantly making sure this communication conduit is flowing is what a pumping piston looks like.


Like trust, chemistry is not a constant.  It fluctuates.  This means you have to work at it.  Many people get into a relationship and suddenly let themselves go.  Their appearance, manners, take a back seat because they aren’t single anymore.  This is selfish and it will effect the chemistry.  Many people don’t work on their issues in the bedroom.  They believe if it doesn’t come naturally, it’s just the way it is.  Working on the chemistry may have nothing to do with the other person.  It may mean working on you so you feel more comfortable in your own skin, which will help the chemistry.

Whether it’s working on your own self image or supporting or encouraging your partner’s journey with theirs, chemistry requires constant work.  As people change, chemistry changes.  If we don’t put effort into adapting, exploring, reigniting, the piston dies.  I believe not working on chemistry is a form of infidelity.


The key to a healthy relationship is to always be connected.  Not just via text.  Many think connection just means good sex.  Connection, as cheesy as it sounds, means to always have that person in your heart.  There’s also a spiritual piece to this. The behavior that comes out of that is thoughtful cards, balloons, poems, prayers, back rubs, eye contact, cute notes, texts, and of course, good sex.

Now here’s the thing.  Although I use pistons as a metaphor, these do overlap and one effects the other.  But if you focus on them independently, like pistons, you will make sure all bases are covered.  This means your relationship will have momentum.  If both people are doing this, and working hard at it, your engine will have a turbo.

Healthy relationships don’t just happen.  They take work.  If you don’t want to put in the work, don’t expect for it to go anywhere.


Author Bio:

John Kim, aka The Angry Therapist, is a LMFT whose practice redefines “therapy” in the traditional sense. He uses the internet as a therapeutic tool with an online community as the main space for growth and healing. John and his team provide support to make mental health a daily practice, integrated in everyday life. Join the movement, Live Different: Connect with him on Twitter@angrytherapist