My clients often ask me: “What is a healthy relationship?”. This is a great question because it’s not obvious or instinctual to many, especially if you were abused as a child or you’ve witnessed or experienced abuse in a romantic relationship. If you’ve had a history of abuse or other trauma, it can be hard to know what a healthy relationship looks and feels like.
Here are my top 12 characteristics of a healthy relationship.
- Nurturing and loving. The most basic characteristic of a good relationship is that it’s loving. There is a feeling of being cared for deeply in words and actions. Your partner says kind things. S/he intentionally does things to comfort you, show appreciation and affection.
- Honest. In healthy relationships people tell the truth. They don’t keep secrets or lie by omission. The goal is transparency, rather than deception.
- Accepts you as you are. I’m sure you’ve heard that it’s a bad idea to get into a relationship with the expectation that you will change someone. Whether it’s a big issue like drug use or a small issue like dirty dishes in the sink, you will be frustrated (or worse) if you’re expecting your partner to change his/her ways. Yes, people can and do change. But they have to want to change. You can’t make your partner change no matter how much you love him/her.
- Respectful. Mutual respect means you consider someone else’s feelings and treat them as you want to be treated. When there is respect, you don’t feel pressured or manipulated. You are accepted and treated with kindness. Your partner listens and values your point of view.
- A team effort. You should feel like you and your partner are working together. You have shared goals. You don’t undermine, compete or try to “win”. You support each other as a unit and as individuals.
- Safe physically and emotionally. You can relax around your partner. You know s/he’s “got your back”. You aren’t afraid of being hit, forced to do something you don’t want to do, manipulated, yelled at, belittled or shamed.
- Vulnerable. Safety allows vulnerability and vulnerability allows deep connection. You feel safe to share your dreams and confessions without fear of judgment.
- Supportive of your individuality. Healthy attachment allows partners to go safely and confidently into the world to set and achieve individual goals. You can have time to yourself. Your partner will encourage you, be proud of you and show interest in your personal goals and hobbies.
- Shared expectations. Time and again I find that differing expectations end up with one person being disappointed. I’m a big believer in having realistic expectations and for couples to have similar expectations. Expectations can include everything from how often you have sex, how you celebrate holidays, how much time you spend together, or how household chores are divided. If you’re on different pages, you need to negotiate and compromise until you reached shared expectations.
- Forgiving. Hurt and misunderstanding are also a part of being in relationship with someone. You should be able to forgive (not forget) when there is genuine remorse and behavior change. Without forgiveness, toxic resentment and pain will grow and eventually suffocate a relationship.
- Addresses conflict and hurt. Communication is really important. Talking is easy when things are good, but it’s even more important to be able to address conflicts and hurts. In a healthy relationship there is a mechanism to air grievances, talk about hurt, and disagree in a respectful way.
- Fun and playful. Yes, relationships take work, but they should also be fun. Why be in a relationship if you don’t enjoy each other’s company, laugh together, and have a good time?
It’s possible to build a healthy relationship with your spouse or partner when you are both committed to creating a loving, respectful relationship. Remember that there is a give and take in relationships. You have a right to expect all these characteristics of a healthy relationship and you also have to give them to your partner. If you’re struggling, individual and/or couples counseling can help.
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