What does a loving, long-lasting relationship look like? TV and movies have long convinced us that it must include infinite passion (or drama) and that we’re doing something wrong if we don’t receive over-the-top romantic gestures on the regular. Are these really characteristics of a healthy relationship? There must be something more than this!
Spoiler alert: There absolutely is more to a healthy relationship than the overly romanticized version you see onscreen. Loving relationships take work. And while every dynamic is different — because every couple is different — here are some ways to be in your own healthy relationship, and how to model those healthy traits for your kids.
What are some characteristics of a healthy relationship?
1. Mutual Respect
Show that you value the other person, who they are as a person, their feelings, and their needs. It’s especially essential to show mutual respect when you disagree. It is okay to agree to disagree because you are unique individuals with your own viewpoints. Differences in opinions are to be expected.
How to actualize it: You can develop respect by being a good listener, communicating calmly and directly, and appreciating your partner.
2. Trust in One Another
Relationships cannot survive without trust. Partners should be able to trust each other with their thoughts and feelings and give each other much-needed space.
How to actualize it: You can develop trust by allowing yourself to be vulnerable and giving your partner the benefit of the doubt.
3. Honesty With Each Other
On the tail-end of trust is honesty. Healthy partners don’t hide things from each other. They trust and respect each other enough to not keep things inside. While it can be challenging to express your true feelings, guilt for not being honest can cause a relationship to break down. Dr. Gregory L. Jantz says, “The truth should be spoken in love, compassion, and tenderness.”
How to actualize it: You can develop honesty by being someone your partner can rely on (doing what you say you’re going to do), communicating calmly and clearly, and without judgment.
4. Good Communication
The only way to build trust and maintain honesty with respect is through effective communication. Deliver clear expectations and needs. Collaborate and make plans. Overcome hurdles and build up stronger, checking in with one another regularly.
How to actualize it: You can develop good communication by being trustworthy, honest, and respectful. Make time to ask open-ended and thoughtful questions, pay attention to body language, and don’t try to read your partner’s mind.
5. Viewing Your Partner as Your Best Friend
Some relationships start as friends, which is a wonderful foundation for a long-term healthy relationship. For others, friendship grows after romance. Eventually, you may feel that this person sitting across from you — quirks and all — is your best friend. This deep bond leads to solid relationships.
How to actualize it: You can develop friendship by being your partner’s go-to teammate and valuing small moments together.
6. Celebrating Each Other’s Achievements
Get excited about each other’s achievements, big and small. “A healthy relationship exists when value is placed not only on who you are together but also on who you are individually,” says Dr. Jantz.
How to actualize it: You can celebrate your partner by taking a genuine interest in what makes them unique. Show generosity and be eager to hear more about their good news.
Are there any other characteristics of a healthy relationship?
But the signs of a healthy relationship don’t stop there. According to clinical psychologist Alice Boyes, here are other aspects of a relationship that also highlight its strength.
- You can describe the most important people in your partner’s life.
- You value your partner’s ideas.
- You and your partner have a playful relationship.
- When you’re not together, you think about each other.
- You see your partner more positively than they view themselves.
- You can name a few of your partner’s favorite books.
- You can recall something you did together that was new and difficult.
- You know what embarrasses your partner the most.
- You rarely curse at your partner or dismiss their feelings.
- If you have a child together, you can name some of the positive qualities you see in your partner in them.
- You often show appreciation and admiration for one another.
Do you struggle with healthy relationships?
Try not to feel defeated if your relationship doesn’t check all the boxes for characteristics of a healthy relationship. Relationships — even healthy ones — take tons of work and mutual commitment. For those who constantly struggle to maintain healthy relationships, there may be some underlying issues within:
- Are you distrustful? Distrustful people believe all the good ones are taken and that anyone you end up with will only hurt you.
- Are you a people pleaser? People with this pattern will surpass expectations as a way to earn and keep someone’s love.
- Are you avoidant? Sometimes people with a painful past — or those who witness others in pain — opt to keep partners and a safe distance.
- Are you always worried? Some anxious people live with a constant sense of dread that their partner will reject or leave them.
- Are you back-and-forth? This person lacks balance and consistency. With some partners, they are needy and attached, but they act emotionally distant from other partners.
Here are a few other issues to look out for within your relationship:
- Do you or your partner try to change each other?
- Does your relationship feel unbalanced, or like one person has more control?
- Does your partner respect your boundaries?
- Does your partner say mean or hurtful things to you?
- Do you feel like your voice is heard in your relationship?
- Are you afraid to express yourself to your partner?
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, tells Psychology Today, “It can be difficult to see yourself in these patterns, or you may see yourself in more than one. The key point to remember is any of these patterns of attachment can change if you are willing to acknowledge the issue and work towards a healthier pattern of thinking and behaving.”
Avoid reading online checklists of unhealthy or toxic relationships. “Checklists of unhealthy or abusive relationships risk making things worse by developing victim-identity, which will undermine all present and future relationships and most likely impair performance at work,” says Dr. Steven Stosny for Psychology Today. You may start to look for signs that aren’t there and amplify what you do find. Negative checklists offer little help on how to improve the relationship and often make you feel worse.
As you assess your closest relationship with the above information, remember that you and your partner have a combination of needs and motivations unique to only you two. Honor who you are as individuals and a couple, approach conflict with mutual respect, and put the work in to continue to grow together.
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