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What Does a Healthy Relationship Look Like?

Let’s face it–there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. However, the best relationship allows you to date your best friend and be your most authentic self. Those are the relationships worth seeking out and putting in the effort for! In a healthy relationship, you should feel liked, loved, cherished, trusted, and accepted by your partner. 

Healthy relationships are not selfish, and they’re not tumultuous. It takes hard work to be in a healthy relationship, as with all relationships, but experiencing the happiness and security of a healthy relationship makes life even more fulfilling. Healthy relationships come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have similar characteristics. If you’ve been wondering what a healthy relationship is all about, look no further!

Signs of a Healthy Relationship

Trust is established

A healthy relationship is always one that’s built on mutual trust. The trust has to run deep within the relationship. Trust develops when you consistently show up for your significant other when they need you and when they do the same for you. It also develops when you confide in one another and are met with compassion and understanding.  Trust forms when your significant other knows that you are someone they can truly rely on for anything. When you’re both careful not to break each others’ trust, it establishes a secure connection between you. Once you both realize that your relationship is trustworthy, you know that your relationship is strong and healthy. 

You feel comfortable around each other

When you first start dating, it’s normal to want to show your most curated self to your partner. You probably want to look and act your best at all times and not do anything embarrassing in front of them. But once you start to settle into a healthy relationship, the anxiety of not looking or acting appealing in front of your partner fades away. They need to be attractive to your partner and morph into something completely different – comfortability. 

You love each other for who you both are, and you aren’t afraid to be your authentic selves around each other. Each person is accepted even on their bad days or when they’re on their worst behavior. You aren’t afraid to be exactly who you are with your partner, no matter how goofy or weird that may be. After all, being able to be 100% comfortable around each other is a great sign of a healthy relationship. 

You support each other

It’s not enough to spend a lot of time with another person. The relationship between you needs to be an active source of emotional support to be healthy and strong. Support could look like when you go home at the end of a tough day to talk to your partner about it, and they listen to you with their full attention. Support could also mean that they encourage you when you want to try out a new hobby. 

No matter what happens in life, they are there for you. Even when life throws curveballs at you and you experience significant grief or loss, your partner still supports you the whole way through. Fostering a supportive environment within a relationship is a great way to maintain health and happiness (and longevity!) in that relationship. 

You encourage each others’ growth

A healthy partner will want to see your growth and support you in your every endeavor. Whether going to therapy to work on emotional growth or going to the gym to focus on physical growth, your partner encourages you to be your best self. Maybe you’ve been putting a lot of extra time and effort into getting a promotion at your job – your partner understands your absence and wants you to do what’s best for yourself.

A healthy relationship is never selfish. You both want the other person to excel at whatever goal they’re trying to achieve and do not feel threatened by their success. Instead, you feel inspired by each other to continue growing together as a couple. You might even grow stronger together by going after similar goals! 

For example, you decide you want to go to the gym more often, so your partner goes with you. You decide that you both want to eat healthier, so you learn to cook healthier meals together. If this is not the case, you may each have different personal goals for yourselves that you can both work towards at the same time, encouraging each other at every step of the way. Growing together is a tried and true way to form a healthy relationship, whatever the case may be.

Boundaries are respected

Setting boundaries can be difficult. On the one hand, you need your boundaries to be respected, and on the other hand, you don’t want to hurt your partner’s feelings. In healthy relationships, boundaries are respected no matter what. You may not like setting boundaries, and you may feel attacked when your partner sets boundaries with you. 

The healthy way to set and maintain boundaries is to keep that communication open. You can set boundaries in a way that is gentle to keep your partner from becoming defensive, and they should do the same for you. Healthy couples understand that no matter when or how a boundary is set, the boundary cannot be crossed once it’s there. Healthy relationships also keep communication about boundaries open and ongoing. 

Let’s say, for example, that at the beginning of the relationship, you and your partner agree that flirting with other people is a boundary that neither of you can cross. After you’ve been together for a while, you discuss this boundary and decide that you both feel secure enough in the relationship to flirt with other people. You also communicate with each other that flirting outside of the relationship can end at any time if one or both people become uncomfortable with this new boundary. 

In healthy relationships, boundaries are set, revisited, and sometimes renegotiated, but they are always respected at the end of the day. 

You have separate lives and interests

Having separate lives and interests is incredibly important in healthy relationships. Some of the best relationship advice is not to lose yourself in another person. You both have to keep your sense of individuality for the relationship to work. 

This means having your friends, hobbies, and own lives outside of the relationship. Imagine you and your partner as two strong marble pillars. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do these pillars stand tall on their own without needing to lean on each other? 
  • Are the pillars have a solid foundation of unique thoughts, strong opinions, and a good sense of self-worth? 
  • Do they have support systems from other people outside of the relationship? 
  • How sturdy are the pillars? 

If they are sturdy enough, the pillars representing you and your partner can lean against each other without crumbling. Relationships in which the people cannot stand tall on their own will crumble when they try to lean in and fall into a pile of rubble. Having separate lives is so important because it means you can stand strong together in a relationship instead of crumbling together in an unhealthy mixed-up mess.

You understand each others’ love languages

Understanding each other’s love languages is a super healthy step in a relationship. Once you know exactly how to make your partner feel loved, you can spoil them! Learning about love languages is a great sign of a healthy relationship. It shows that you and your partner truly care about each other and want to make each other feel special. 

Couples in healthy relationships tune into each others’ wants and needs and make sure that they love their partner sincerely. Love languages are an excellent tool for couples to use to strengthen the health of their relationship.

You understand each others’ attachment styles

Attachment theory is a concept in psychology that explains how people behave in relationships according to their attachment style. The four attachment styles are secure, anxious, avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Understanding your partner’s attachment style is an important part of a healthy relationship. It allows you to better understand their needs and behaviors. 

If your partner has an avoidant attachment style, they’ll appreciate coming home after a long day and having plenty of alone time before spending time with you. A partner with an anxious attachment style might want to come home after a long day and immediately tell you all about their day. 

Attachment styles also dictate how people behave in conflict. For example, a person who has a secure attachment style may be less reactive to an anxious partner who is angry and saying hurtful things. 

In some healthy relationships, attachment styles are well understood, which allows the couple to navigate conflict and everyday interaction much more easily. When couples are aware of their attachment styles, they can better healthily communicate their wants and needs.

You have a productive conflict

If you’ve ever walked away from a conflicting feeling defeated, unheard, and frustrated, you were probably just involved in an unproductive conflict. A good sign of a healthy relationship is when couples have a conflict that is always or almost always productive. 

Productive conflict is an opportunity for your partner to hear your thoughts and feelings and for you to do the same for them. It’s an opportunity to understand one another and work through the issues in your relationship. A signifier of a healthy relationship is that when you enter into conflict with your partner, you feel a sense of security that you’ll still be able to work through it with them even if you’re upset. 

In healthy relationships, you should not dread conflict because you know it will lead to a resolution in the end in which both people feel seen and heard. Productive conflict avoids blaming each other, using hurtful words or tactics, invalidating each others’ feelings, or raising your voices at each other. Instead, productive conflict uses understanding, empathy, awareness, and conflict resolution to work through issues healthily.

You speak your mind

You know you’re in a healthy relationship when you can speak your mind without repercussions. Even if your words are critical, your partner is willing to hear you. Your partner has been falling behind on chores, and you have to pick up the slack, so you call them out on it. They respond by listening and trying to do better in the future. 

When you can speak your mind, you are free of the anxiety that comes with worrying about what your partner might say or do to retaliate. You feel secure knowing that you and your partner can speak freely when something is the matter. If your partner does something that bothers you, you can just tell them without it being a huge issue! Having the peace of mind that you can speak to your partner about anything without fear is a relief and a great sign of a healthy relationship.

You are physically intimate

Couples in healthy relationships typically engage in physical intimacy, which often means sex but doesn’t have to include sex. Physical intimacy can also mean cuddling, kissing, holding hands, sleeping together, or being physically close to one another. 

In healthy relationships, both people are getting their needs met in ways that they are both comfortable with. Physical intimacy is a great way to promote bonding, but the presence of physical intimacy in a relationship is not what makes the relationship healthy. The two of you need to be able to have honest and vulnerable conversations about sex and intimacy. 

You both need to be receptive to the other person’s wants and needs. Also, you need to be comfortable with rejection by your partner at times and deal with the rejection healthily. Healthy intimacy should feel like a safe space with your partner in which boundaries are always respected.

You keep the romance alive

Couples in healthy relationships know how to keep the romance alive. The trick is to never stop dating, even if you’ve been together for decades! Keeping the romance alive is a healthy way to keep the relationship exciting. After all, monotony leads to unhappiness, and unhappiness leads to unhealthiness. 

Instead of falling into this trap, your partner will take you out on cute dates or treat you to your favorite breakfast food in healthy relationships. After a long day, you give your partner a candle-lit massage, complete with chocolate-covered strawberries. You do these things because you want to keep the romance alive and show your partner how much you care.

Even small romantic gestures signify a healthy relationship because it shows that your partner still cares enough to want to keep the romance going. 

Signs of Unhealthy Relationships

Boundaries are not respected

A major warning sign of an unhealthy relationship is when your partner does not respect your boundaries. It can be as simple as asking them not to leave the toilet seat up, and they do it anyway. This seems like a small mistake, but you notice that they go through your phone when you’re not looking. Maybe you’ve expressed that you prefer privacy while showering, and they frequently barge into the bathroom.

Whatever the case may be, it’s never acceptable for boundaries to be crossed. When your partner disrespects the smaller boundaries early on, it’s a warning sign that they’ll be comfortable violating bigger, firmer boundaries later on. When people in relationships don’t value boundaries, it’s a good indicator that the relationship is toxic and unhealthy.

Conflict is unproductive

If you’ve ever had a small issue turn into a yelling match, you’ve experienced very unproductive conflict. When you often feel that conflict with your partner never gets fully resolved and always results in hurt feelings, this is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. 

If you or your partner often get defensive, you may not be communicating healthily, or you have not practiced empathetic listening. A major sign of an unhealthy relationship is when the couple lacks ‘tools’ for communication and conflict resolution. Without being able to handle conflict healthily, the couple is not likely to have a very secure or fulfilling relationship. 

You often feel sad or miserable

Studies show that single people are much happier than people in unhealthy relationships. If you often feel sad or miserable due to your relationship, that’s not a very good sign. 

When your mental well-being is in jeopardy due to the nature of your relationship, it’s best to evaluate whether being in an unhealthy relationship is worth the stress. It is certainly not healthy for you or your relationship if you’re constantly sad or miserable!

You have a weak connection

Maybe things in your relationship are going alright, but it doesn’t feel all that special. You and your partner have a weak connection and can’t get past the distance between you. Even if you’re trying hard to get close to your partner and create a deeper sense of emotional intimacy, your efforts aren’t paying off. Healthy relationships don’t grow out of emotional distance and a weak connection, so this is a sign that your relationship might not be the best or the healthiest. 

Tips for Cultivating a Healthy Relationship

Learn each other’s love languages and attachment styles

If you want to get closer to your partner, take some time to come together and learn each other’s love language. This gives you insight into how to love your partner the way they want to be loved. It will be a fun bonding exercise to figure out your love languages together! Similarly, with attachment styles, there are great resources in books and online to figure out what your attachment styles are. This will help you understand how to communicate with one another and navigate the relationship from a healthier perspective.

Spend quality time together

Another great way to strengthen your relationship is to spend quality time together. Focus on getting to know your partner and practice active listening. You can even play a card game that involves asking each other intimate questions printed on the cards. Take turns asking each other questions and getting to know the other person. You may find out some surprising facts about each other in the process!

Focus on communication

Working on communication is the number one method for strengthening a relationship. If you can attend therapy or couples counseling, that can help you both build up your communication toolbox. It makes a world of difference when when you’re better equipped to approach difficult conversations. Continuously practicing better communication is part of what makes healthy relationships so healthy! It’s the desire to want to do better for yourself and your partner.

Maintaining Healthy Relationships

Attending couples counseling is an excellent way to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships. Many people think that couples counseling is only for when relationships have gone sour. This could not be further from the truth. Even people with strong, healthy relationships can seek couples counseling to strengthen their relationship even more. Couples counseling teaches you important skills for healthy communication and trust-building. 

A couples therapist can even provide you with fun exercises or tasks to complete together to encourage bonding. These exercises might include creating a vision board together for all of your future goals.

A therapist will work with you to figure out what bonding exercises would work best for your specific relationship. A therapist can also introduce creative solutions to the smaller issues so that they don’t turn into larger ones down the line. Overall, couples therapy is a great option for couples to maintain the health of their relationships.

Conclusion

Being in a relationship that feels safe, nurturing, fun, loving, and special is one of the greatest joys life offers. Though great relationships take a lot of work, they are possible to cultivate and maintain. The effort it takes to maintain a good relationship is worth it–it just takes time, dedication, and a lot of love. 

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Sofia Bolanos

Sofia Bolanos has over seven years of experience in the mental health field and is an avid peer support counselor and volunteer. She also works closely with homeless populations in the San Francisco Bay Area and provides resources and support to vulnerable individuals within the community. Her goal is to utilize her gift of insight to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. As part of her commitment to that goal, she facilitates a monthly support group in which couples are strongly encouraged to attend. She received a B.A. in Sociology from San Francisco State University and is on track to continue her graduate studies in 2023. In addition to her passions for writing and helping others in their healing journeys, she enjoys oil painting, contemporary dance, plant care, and spending quality time with her dog.

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