Whether you’ve found The One or you’re in the beginning stages of dating, you likely occasionally want reassurance that your relationship is as healthy as can be. This is only natural – as humans, we want to ensure that we and those we love are growing and thriving (including ourselves).
In this post, you’ll learn what healthy relationships aren’t – and what they are – so that both you and your partner can protect your peace, preserve your mental health, and connect more deeply to each other.
What Healthy Relationships Aren’t
Because a “healthy relationship” is such a broad, difficult-to-define enigma, let’s narrow it down a bit first by talking about what healthy relationships aren’t. Once you have this knowledge, you can think about how to deal with unhealthy aspects of your relationship if you determine that they’re present.
Here are some immediate red flags that will help you decide whether you need to have a hard talk or tell a toxic partner to take a hike.
A Lack of Space or Boundaries
The media often romanticizes the idea of sharing every little aspect of your life with the person you love. This isn’t realistic. It’s important for any healthy person to have thoughts that they keep to themselves, both about their relationship and about other things. If your partner expects you to tell them everything or vice versa, that’s incredibly toxic.
I personally think that it’s not always smart to tell your partner everything that friends and family members told you in confidence. If a secret isn’t yours to tell, keep your lips locked (unless it directly affects your relationship or, someone is being harmed or is in danger).
Remember to set personal boundaries and enforce standards. This is critical to preserving your self-respect and having a mutual relationship.
Being Each Other’s Only Person
Another thing that people often romanticize but is actually toxic? The idea that happy, healthy partners should be the only important person in one another’s lives.
Healthy partners should absolutely have close friends outside of the relationship. Different relationships perform different functions in a person’s life, and there are many different types of love. Romantic love is important, but platonic and familial love are just as essential to living your best life.
Make sure that you make time for others who are important to you rather than spending every waking moment together. Have lunch with mom. Plan a road trip with your best friend. These are all important people who you have important relationships with.
Similarly to being the only important person in each other’s lives, codependency is a terrible thing to have in a relationship. This is defined as excessive psychological/emotional reliance on a partner to the point that you’re unable to function without them (ask me how I know; I have struggled with codependency my entire life). While this isn’t the same as being the only important person to each other, one is a natural consequence of the other.
If you’re unsure of whether or not you’re in a codependent relationship, take a step back. Breathe. Codependent relationships are generally one-sided. Ask yourself if you feel responsible for your partner’s feelings and behavior. If so, look into codependency. Also, consider whether or not you rely so much on your partner that you’re unsure what would happen (or how you’d carry on) if you broke up.
If you rely on your partner for every aspect of your happiness, mental health, and sense of worth, that’s codependency. You should have other relationships as well as your own individual hopes, thoughts, beliefs, and aspirations.
100% Agreement on Everything
Many people would argue that you and your partner should agree on most matters. That’s true when it comes to major things, like whether or not you want to get married, have kids, or whether or not they would feel comfortable moving abroad with you. It’s also true that you should share the same moral code and values.
But do you need to agree on everything?
The answer to that is a resounding “no.” If you and your partner always agree, you’re never going to challenge each other. Not only that, but when the day comes that you do disagree, you’re not going to know what to do about it. Disagreeing on smaller matters now is healthy because it will help you learn how to communicate when issues arise in the future.
A Solely Physical Focus
Sex is a very important and healthy part of most adult relationships. However, in a healthy long-term relationship, it can’t be the most important thing. If you and your partner are compatible in the bedroom, that’s great. Still, it’s no substitute for not being compatible in other ways.
Generally, there are five key types of intimacy: physical (sexual), emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and experiential. Being compatible in bed is only 1/5 of the battle. Also, because a happy life can’t be sustained on sex alone, you really need to prioritize other aspects of your relationship, too.
Make sure that you can have an intimate conversation with your partner about your wants, needs, dreams, and emotions. Get to know each other’s families and friends. Discuss your future aspirations and ensure long-term compatibility, if that’s what you’re looking for.
All of these are just as important as good sex… if not more so. An orgasm is 99% mental; the best sex starts between the ears before between the legs. Make sure you have emotional intimacy too.
Obsession and Control
Finally, if your partner is obsessive or controlling, this is more than an unhealthy behavior: it’s a red flag of abuse. Get out as fast as you possibly can. Partners that afford you no space give you no room to flourish or have your own life, and those that manipulate and control you can really do a number on both your mental and physical health.
Possessive and controlling behavior isn’t a sign that your partner loves you, it’s a sign that they don’t value you or trust you to make your own decisions. Leave. Your future self will thank you even if it hurts right now, and you will be okay.
Signs of a Healthy Relationship
Okay, so now you know what a healthy relationship doesn’t look like. But what does one look like? There are many different traits of a healthy relationship, which makes it difficult to define them all. However, we’re going to discuss some of the most critical and universal ones here. Here are some of the most essential factors of a healthy partnership.
Open and Honest Communication
The first element of a healthy relationship is the ability for partners to communicate. When you spend a lot of time with someone, you’re bound to encounter disagreements, obstacles, and unforeseen difficulties. This doesn’t mean that you’re incompatible or that you care less about one another- it simply means that you need to discuss these issues.
If your relationship is healthy, you can sit down with your partner and talk through the issue. Listen actively to what they’re thinking before responding (stay on your white horse and never react) to their concerns. Make sure that you present your arguments calmly and rationally, too. Arguing and shouting isn’t a healthy way to communicate and it gets you nowhere.
When communicating, it’s important that you’re fully honest. If you aren’t, then you aren’t going to be able to reach a viable conclusion to the issue. Compromise is important, but you won’t be able to reach a middle ground if you remain closed off and secretive.
No Lying or Secrets
Speaking of being secretive, adults in a healthy relationship don’t keep secrets from one another.
You shouldn’t be keeping relevant information or major life plans from each other. Since these choices will impact your partner assuming that you stay together, you need to keep them in the loop and involved in major life decisions. You also shouldn’t be withholding important information from a serious and committed partner if you’re going through something intense. This could impact your relationship, which makes it relevant to them.
This doesn’t mean that you need to tell each other everything. You’re well entitled to have your own thoughts and feelings that remain outside the relationship! In fact, as we talked about earlier, having good personal boundaries is essential to valuing yourself and ensuring that you’re treated appropriately.
All we’re saying is that if something directly impacts your partner or the relationship? Well, out with it!
Let Conflicts Go Unresolved
While communication is key when one partner hurts the other badly or when an important decision is being made, you can let some conflicts go unresolved. You heard that right- the fact that partners need to resolve each and every little conflict that arises right away is a myth.
It’s unrealistic to expect you to agree on everything all the time and resolve all conflicts neatly within a couple of conversations. If you’re able to do this, in fact, it may be indicative that you have a bigger problem such as the inability to express your own needs or your partner’s unwillingness to keep true to what they want.
In fact, research by John Gottman shows that the majority of healthy couples have unresolved issues in their marriage that have persisted for decades. Unhealthy couples that insist on solving everything immediately force one another to concede and compromise before one partner is ready to, which leaves a void in the relationship.
Challenging Each Other
You may envision a healthy relationship as a calming wave, steady, soft, and unwavering. And this is true! But each wave is formed because of pressure within the ocean, just as healthy relationships are formed because of personal growth brought on by your partner challenging you to be a better person.
Those in healthy partnerships challenge each other to do better and to be better. They hold themselves accountable for their actions and help one another learn from them. These individuals also are happy to have a friendly debate or an open-minded conversation about something that they can disagree respectfully on.
Relationships where both people agree 100% of the time are boring. Relationships that roll along without a hiccup ensure that neither one of you will grow to be your best self. If you and your partner are challenging each other, then you’re doing an incredible job.
Valuing Other Relationships
We previously discussed how those in healthy relationships shouldn’t be the only important person in each other’s life.
Not only is having close personal friends good for your health, but it’s essential in living a happy life. Even if your partner is the one that you’re spending your life with and planning to have a family with, you can’t underestimate your best friends’ places in your life. Don’t think of them as being less important than your partner, but rather simply as a different type of relationship.
Your friends and family are always there to offer support or lend you a shoulder to cry on, even when your partner can’t be. Don’t restrict yourself to placing value only on one person or relationship, because this is simply untrue.
Valuing the Self
In addition to valuing your friends and family, there’s one person who you cannot afford to NOT value: yourself.
While having a partner to go through life with is an amazingly beautiful thing, they aren’t an extension of you. You have other goals, dreams, and ideas that you want to pursue and do well at. You can’t put your own aspirations on the back burner simply because your partner wants something different. Fight for your dreams- you deserve it.
Also, valuing yourself helps your relationship to become healthier because your partner will value you more, too. You teach people how to treat you, so make sure that YOU KNOW your values and limits. Don’t lose sight of yourself for the sake of a relationship- the best relationships are those where partners can grow in the same direction without sacrificing their identity.