The H.E.A.R.T. Model — 5 Pillars of a Good Relationship

I received a ton of views and feedback after writing about what I’ve learned from my long distance relationship, so I wanted to write more about love and relationships, because, well, I’m a softie and dig that kind of shit. There, I said it.

I can’t help it.. I’ve always wanted my job to be like Will Smith’s in Hitch. Actually, I want to be Will Smith in any movie. I just want to be Will Smith. 

But seriously, love and intimate relationships can be the source of some of our greatest joys and deepest pains we experience throughout life. For me, my priority in my life has always been my relationships. Whether that’s my relationship with my family, friends, romantic, or otherwise, I make those a priority over anything else.

Turns out that I’m onto something. More and more research is showing how important relationships are to our wellbeing. Books like Social by Matthew Lieberman and Flourish by Martin Seligman go into crazy detail of how relationships affect your brain chemistry and make you happy and stuff.

One of my favorite books is Your Brain at Work by David Rock. First off, because it makes for real sexy conversation at a cocktail party; “Hey, I’m Danny. Did you know that the part of the brain called the Basil Ganglia controls our habits? Want to hang out sometime?”

Secondly, he talks about the five needs of the human brain. These five needs, when understood, can help improve your social skills and help you become more well-liked.

So I took David Rock’s research, mixed with my own experiences, and came up with the HEART Model.

Clever, I know.

These are the five things that you can do to become a better romantic partner, and strengthen your relationships.

The H.E.A.R.T. Model

H – Have Space

I wrote that one of the reasons that Kelsey and I thrived was because we have our own lives to go back to when we’re not together, but with 2,000 miles of physical separation, it’s easy to create space.

But when you live in the same city and that physical space isn’t there, you have to let your significant other have their space in other ways. This means not going through their phone. This means not calling or texting them every 14 seconds asking what they’re doing (because chances are he’s still playing video games). This means having “girls nights” and “bro time.” This means having an identity outside of your relationship. 

I read something somewhere that your significant other should not be your lover, your best friend, you therapist, your teammate, mentor, and sidekick all in one. Or something like that. Creating space, physical/mental/emotional can actually help your relationship rather than hinder it. 

E – Empathy 

People need to feel understood. They have to feel like you “get” where they’re coming from. This does not mean you have to agree with everything they say or do, but you need to listen and understand what’s going on.

There’s two extremes that I see happen a lot:

  1. People are so emphatic with their side of the story that they don’t even try to understand where the other person is coming from, or…
  2. People become a “Yes Man” and just agree with everything their partner says and completely ignoring their own needs.

Both of these are equally catastrophic to a functional relationship. This is why I suggest to listen, understand, and then respectfully agree or disagree based on how you view the situation. 

A – Appreciation

We all want to be seen, noticed, or appreciated for the things we do. In David Rock’s book, he calls this status. The idea that we matter; that we’re important.

Something that happens all the time in relationships is one person is constantly taking small shots at the other: non-playful teasing in front of their friends, telling them that they are not emptying the dishwasher the right way, constantly highlighting their embarrassing mistakes with “remember that one time..”

All those small shots build resentment and crush confidence.

This is where appreciation can do just the opposite. A thank you, an I love you, a damn you look beautiful, a wow these steaks are cooked to perfection can all build confidence and love within the relationship. 

R – Reciprocity

Reciprocity means mutual exchange. This means sometimes sacrificing your own desires for the other person.

One time, I went to visit my girlfriend in Utah, and sat through six of her dance shows; all the same exact show. I almost knew the choreography. I actually did get up on stage, but that’s another story for another time.

Then, three weeks later, she came to visit me and she came with me to the ACC Basketball Tournament with my dad and brother. And for the uninitiated, the beauty of college basketball tournaments is that you don’t get tickets for one game, you get it for one session, and one session = two games. It’s four and a half hours of Bud Light, salty popcorn, and the best game ever created. It’s beautiful. Unless of course you’re a dancer who doesn’t care for beer or basketball, then it could be equivalent of watching paint dry.

The point is, that even though I don’t understand the artistry of dance, I went to all 6 shows that week because it was important to her. And she sat through a hoops session because she knows it’s an important tradition I have with my dad and brother every year.

This post on Why People Cheat breaks down giving up self-gratification for your partner and how it can strengthen a relationship.

T – Trust

A true need of the human brain is security and certainty. Unfortunately, in the United States, where 50% of marriages end in divorce, 25% (admit to) having affairs, independent men and women have an unlimited amount of romantic options (work, school, Tinder) security is everything but, well, secure.

The lack of certainty in relationships causes jealousy, game-playing (I’m not going to like you until I know you like me because what if I get hurt?), crazy thoughts, and lack of sleep.

What’s the solution to this? Trust.

Trust is to have confidence that it will work out. It’s the practice of letting the chips fall where they may. The key word here is practice. Trust is something that is built and cultivated over time. Practicing trust means not making assumptions and letting go of expectations of what you belive the relationship should be like.

Final thoughts..

Relationships are complex, hard work, and emotionally taxing, but they can be one of the most powerful forces in your life. When my relationships are going in the right direction, the rest of my life tends to follow suit. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s one aspect of life where the work pays off in a big way. Incorporating these five ideas can change the dynamic between you and your partner for the better. 



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