All romantic relationships go through ups and downs and they all take work, commitment, and a willingness to adapt and change with your partner. Every relationship is unique, and people come together for many different reasons. Part of what defines a healthy relationship is sharing a common goal for exactly what you want the relationship to be and where you want it to go. And that’s something you’ll only know by talking deeply and honestly with your partner. However, there are also some characteristics that most healthy relationships have in common. Knowing these basic principles can help keep your relationship meaningful, fulfilling and exciting whatever goals you’re working towards or challenges you’re facing together.
What makes a healthy relationship?
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Every relationship has a mix of both healthy and unhealthy characteristics. What makes a bond positive is that each person recognizes that these bonds take work and each person must strive to maintain the connection and remedy problems.
People often spend a lot of time talking about how to spot a bad relationship, but there is a lot less discussion about what exactly constitutes a healthy relationship.
You maintain a meaningful emotional connection with each other.
You each make the other feel loved and emotionally fulfilled. There’s a difference between being loved and feeling loved. When you feel loved, it makes you feel accepted and valued by your partner, like someone truly gets you. Some relationships get stuck in peaceful coexistence, but without the partners truly relating to each other emotionally. While the union may seem stable on the surface, a lack of ongoing involvement and emotional connection serves only to add distance between two people.
You’re not afraid of (respectful) disagreement.
Some couples talk things out quietly, while others may raise their voices and passionately disagree. The key in a strong relationship, though, is not to be fearful of conflict. You need to feel safe to express things that bother you without fear of retaliation, and be able to resolve conflict without humiliation, degradation, or insisting on being right.
Openness and Honesty
You should be able to feel that you can be yourself in a healthy relationship. While all couples have varying levels of openness and self-disclosure, you should never feel like you have to hide aspects of yourself or change who you are. Being open and honest with each other not only helps you feel more connected as a couple, but it also helps foster trust.
Self-disclosure refers to what you are willing to share about yourself with another person. At the beginning of a relationship, you may hold back and exercise more caution about what you are willing to reveal. Over time, as the intimacy of a relationship increases, partners begin to reveal more of their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, interests, and memories to one another.
This doesn’t mean that you need to share every single thing with your partner. Each individual needs their own privacy and space. What matters most is whether each partner feels comfortable sharing their hopes, fears, and feelings if they so choose. Healthy couples don’t need to be together all the time or share everything.
Differences in opinion over how much honesty there should be in a relationship can sometimes cause problems, however. Fortunately, one study found that when people are unhappy with their partner’s level of openness, they typically discuss the problem with their partner.4 This is a good example of how addressing a problem openly can help strengthen a relationship.
While your partner may have different needs than you, it is important to find ways to compromise while still maintaining your own boundaries. Boundaries are not about secrecy; they establish that each person has their own needs and expectations.
Healthy boundaries in a relationship allow you to still do the things that are important to you, such as going out with friends and maintaining privacy, while still sharing important things with your partner.
A partner who has unhealthy expectations of openness and honesty might expect to know every detail of where you are and what you’re doing, restrict who you can spend time with, or demand access to your personal social media accounts.
Healthy, long-lasting relationships, whether they are friendships or romantic partnerships, require the ability to communicate well.
While it might seem like the best relationships are those that don’t involve conflict, knowing how to argue and resolve differences of opinion effectively is more important than simply avoiding arguments in order to keep the peace.
Sometimes conflict can be an opportunity to strengthen a connection with your partner. Research has shown that conflict can be beneficial in intimate relationships when serious problems need to be addressed, allowing partners to make changes that benefit the future of the relationship.
When conflicts do arise, those in healthy relationships are able to avoid personal attacks. Instead, they remain respectful and empathetic of their partner as they discuss their thoughts and feelings and work toward a resolution.
Falling in love vs. staying in love
For most people, falling in love usually seems to just happen. It’s staying in love—or preserving that “falling in love” experience—that requires commitment and work. Given its rewards, though, it’s well worth the effort. A healthy, secure romantic relationship can serve as an ongoing source of support and happiness in your life, through good times and bad, strengthening all aspects of your wellbeing. By taking steps now to preserve or rekindle your falling in love experience, you can build a meaningful relationship that lasts—even for a lifetime.
Many couples focus on their relationship only when there are specific, unavoidable problems to overcome. Once the problems have been resolved they often switch their attention back to their careers, kids, or other interests. However, romantic relationships require ongoing attention and commitment for love to flourish. As long as the health of a romantic relationship remains important to you, it is going to require your attention and effort. And identifying and fixing a small problem in your relationship now can often help prevent it from growing into a much larger one down road. The following tips can help you to preserve that falling in love experience and keep your romantic relationship healthy.
Healthy relationships are characterized by fondness and affection. Research has shown that the initial passion that marks the start of a new relationship tends to decline over time, but this does not mean that the need for affection, comfort, and tenderness lessens.
Passionate love usually happens during the beginning of a relationship and is characterized by intense longing, strong emotions, and a need to maintain physical closeness. This passionate love eventually transforms into compassionate love, which is marked by feelings of affection, trust, intimacy, and commitment.
While those intense early feelings eventually return to normal levels, couples in healthy relationships are able to build progressively deeper intimacy as the relationship progresses.
However, it is important to remember that physical needs are different for each individual. There is no “right” amount of affection or intimacy. The key to a healthy relationship is that both partners are content with the level of affection that they share with their partner. A nurturing partnership is characterized by genuine fondness and affection for one another that is expressed in a variety of ways.
Learn to give and take in your relationship
Strong relationships are marked by natural reciprocity. It isn’t about keeping score or feeling that you owe the other person. You do things for one another because you genuinely want to. This doesn’t mean that the give-and-take in a relationship is always 100% equal. At times, one partner may need more help and support. In other cases, one partner may simply prefer to take more of a caregiver role. Such imbalances are fine as long as each person is ok with the dynamic and both partners are getting the support that they need.
Signs of Problems
Relationships can change over time and not every relationship is 100% healthy all the time. Times of stress, in particular, can lead to unhealthy behaviors and coping mechanisms that can create problems. A relationship is unhealthy when the bad outweighs the good or when certain behaviors are harmful to one or both individuals.
- Feeling pressured to change who you are
- Neglecting your own needs to put your partner first
- Being pressured to quit the things you enjoy
- Lack of privacy or pressure to share every detail of your life with your partner
- Unequal control over shared resources including money and transportation
- Attempts to control your behaviors
- Criticizing what you do, who you spend time with, how you dress, etc.
- Being afraid to share your opinions or thoughts
- Poor communication
- Lack of fairness when settling conflicts
- Feeling that spending time together is an obligation
- Avoiding one another
- Physical violence
When to Seek Help
All relationships are going to have their bumps in the road. Conflicts over finances, the challenges of parenting, and other differences can all create ups and downs in a long-term relationship. Even if you and your partner have a healthy relationship most of the time, problems might sometimes arise that might benefit from professional help.
If you feel like your relationship might benefit from outside help, consider talking to a Family First Counseling Center counselor or therapist. A mental health professional skilled in addressing interpersonal and relationship issues can help you both learn to communicate, listen, and cope with some of the issues that might be challenging your relationship.
It is important to remember that you cannot force someone to change their behavior unless they want to. If your partner is not interested or willing in going to counseling, go on your own and focus on your own needs and wellness. Work on building your social support system outside of the relationship and consider ending a relationship if it is ultimately unhealthy.