By Dr. Bev
If you have or want to have a strong relationship, you probably want a good one, right? But what is a healthy relationship, exactly? Well, it depends on who you are and what you need. Your specific needs around communication, sex, affection, space, boundaries, trust, shared hobbies and so on may well change throughout life. So, what works in your twenties may not work in your 40’s and 50’s. “Healthy relationships” is a broad term because what makes it thrive depends on the needs of the people in it. Nevertheless, there are some defining
characteristics that stand out in flourishing relationships.
Psalm 37:3: "Trust in the Lord and do good…. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give
you the desires of your heart.”
Doing “good” is the hard part – but it is based on these characteristics:
1. Trust. Trust is inarguably among the most important relationship characteristics. Without trust, there can be little else that is long lasting. Trust builds the solid foundation on which to build emotional intimacy; without it, the hurt can grow bigger and bigger, ever eroding the bridge between you. Without trust, you will never be sure if you can count on your partner when the going gets rough. Trust requires a commitment to communication without reservations or secrets. It involves honesty and integrity. When you are apart, you don’t worry about the other turning against you.
2. Communication. Relationships thrive when couples can express themselves freely and honestly. That means no topic is off-limits, and you both feel heard. Consistent communication is vital to building a lasting life together. Communicating honestly and respectfully, especially when things are difficult, is something that requires a lot of work. We may have learned to keep uncomfortable things well hidden and not discussed for the sake of harmony or we may never have learned how to acknowledge difficult feelings to ourselves. Without good communication and fair fighting, a challenge may escalate into an
all-out war. Strong and healthy communication is the lifeblood that nourishes good relationships and it must be a two-way street.
3. Patience. No one can do good all the time and factors like lack of sleep, stress, or health problems will make you more easily agitated at various points in your life – that’s part of being human. But partners in a loving relationship extend the patience that allows for peace, flexibility and support when one is having a bad day or is not at their best. Healthy relationships adapt to circumstances and the realization that we’re always changing and going through different phases in life. Being able to adjust to the ebb and flow of a partner’s moods in day-to-day life (within reason) can allow a feeling of being unconditionally loved and respected.
4. Empathy. Nothing is a strong sign of a healthy relationship than treating the person you love with care, consideration, empathy and appreciation. A warning sign is when you treat others with more respect than you do your partner. But taking another person’s perspective is really important with the person you’ve chosen as a partner. We need to have each other’s back and be able to “walk a mile in their moccasins,” as the saying goes. Try putting forth the effort to really understand a situation with your partner when you disagree with it. This display of empathy is crucial for long-term love.
5. Affection and interest. Love is ideally part of the relationship that is healthy and committed. But more subtle than love is the affection shown to the other and also a genuine interest – you just genuinely like each other! Small physical gestures of affection can go a long way toward making each person feel comforted and secure in the relationship. Included with this is the ability to work as a team. You work together and support each other, even when you don’t see eye to eye on something. And of course, appreciation and gratitude for the relationship makes us feel more secure and happy with our partners.
6. Flexibility. Yes, relationships take compromise and the key ingredient no matter what, is flexibility. It’s important that both partners bend a little so that neither feels they are doing all the bending or giving in to the other. Eventually, not bending creates toxicity in the relationship. Both partners need to be able to evaluate what matters most to each other within the relationship and agree on how to prioritize each as well as the relationship itself. Partners who are not willing to bend to meet the other will be on separate paths before long.
7. Joy and playfulness. Healthy relationships are full of laughter and fun which simply means that life together is mostly happy in sometimes simple ways – like making dinner together, planting a garden together, laughing at the same things or even finishing each other’s sentences. It’s important to make time for fun and spontaneity and if you can joke and laugh together, even better. Being able to share lighter moments helps to relieve tension and strengthens your relationship even in tough times.
8. Physical intimacy. It can refer to sex, but not necessarily. What is important is that you’re both on the same page about getting needs met. Whatever type of intimacy you share, physically connecting and bonding is important. Healthy intimacy also involves respecting sexual boundaries which includes not pressuring partners about sex or specific acts when they say no. It includes frank discussions of what provides pleasure and discussing sexual risk factors.
9. Room to grow. Relationships grow stale, not because of its duration, but because people feel stuck and unable to progress. It is not at all possible to expect that two people will stay on the same page across years, even decades, of togetherness. Each person must allow the other’s hopes, fears, goals and interests to evolve and find support in the relationship. The connection will thrive as long as both people allow each other the space to grow. The key is not setting expectations that are inflexible.
10. Fighting fairly. Much research has shown that healthy relationships allow for respectful arguing and can predict a lot about their relationship’s success. Couples that hide their upsetness with one another to preserve the notion that everything is okay are probably worse off than the couples who express their emotions and work to resolve them, even when it causes conflict. Healthy relationships refrain from stonewalling and escalating into personal attacks when there is a difference of opinion. Learn to fight fairly, and relationships stand a much better chance of long-term success. And, perhaps most of all, remember the magic words… “I love you.” “Thank you.” And “I’m sorry.”
Set the intention that you desire a fully committed, healthy relationship and remember that daily as you move through your lives together. Next week’s blog continues with “Relationship Red Flags”.
*Acknowledgement with appreciation is given for the above information provided by author Andrea Bonoir in Psychology Today.com and Crystal Raypole, writer for Good Therapy and the Healthline Newsletter.
- Dr. Bev, Counselor and Coach