18 Signs You're in a Healthy Relationship

All relationships have ups and downs, so what makes for a “healthy relationship?”

I’m willing to bet that we’ve all been in relationships that started out well and ended in World War III. And while it’s easy to dissect our roles and detect the red flags AFTER we’re done, it’s virtually impossible to spot the signs when we’re in the initial honeymoon stage. Vowing to learn from my mistakes (or at least make new ones), I took a look at my past relationships and distilled the things I did, didn’t do, and wished I did. The result? 18 Signs You’re in a Healthy Relationship:

1. You give without the expectation of getting anything in return.

You give out of compassion, empathy, and mutual respect. In an unhealthy relationship, giving is used as a tool to get something in return. Avoid the quid pro quo mentality by giving from a place of presence and abundance, not just so he’ll assemble your shelves from Ikea.

2. You love your partner for who he is, not for his potential.

In a healthy relationship, you love your partner for who he is in the present moment. While you may not find his flaws endearing, you accept them. In an unhealthy relationship, you try to change your partner or love him for the person he might one day become. Remember, your partner is a person, not a fixer upper.

3. Your relationship is a safe space.

A healthy relationship fosters intimacy, allowing you to express yourself without the fear of judgment or reprisal. Your shared experiences and deep knowledge of each other are guarded in a private space. In an unhealthy relationship, your insecurities, weaknesses, and secrets are shared with others or become the punch line of a joke.

4. You fight to fix instead of fighting to win.

Contrary to popular belief, fighting is not a sign of the apocalypse. Communicating your needs lovingly, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and finding resolutions are powerful tools to build intimacy, connection, and trust. In a healthy relationship, fights are productive. Each person makes an effort to see the other’s point of view, validates their feelings, and works toward an equitable resolution. In an unhealthy relationship, a fight is a power play or opportunity for payback.

5. You look for common ground over competition.

In a healthy relationship, both parties have a shared vision for the future and support each other to achieve their goals. Each win is considered a win for the team. In an unhealthy relationship, each person competes to outdo the other or demands that the other sacrifice their dreams and priorities.

6. You use sex to connect, not to fill a void.

Physical affection can’t fill a void within. In a healthy relationship, both people recognize when and why they want affection and how to communicate their need. They don’t use sex to boost their self-esteem or address bigger problems. Remember, deeper issues need to be worked out in a therapist’s office, not in the bedroom.

7. You choose to see the best, not the worst.

Your attitude determines your mood. In any moment you have two options: (1) You can nitpick what’s “wrong” and use that as an excuse to end the relationship, or (2) You can choose to appreciate your partner and the things they do “right.” In a healthy relationship, you give your partner the benefit of the doubt and accentuate the positive. This doesn’t deny reality; it gives you a balanced perspective to address your concerns.

8. You choose to see the present rather than old patterns.

In a healthy relationship, each person avoids making grandiose statements like “You always...” or “You never...” Forgetting to pick up the milk doesn’t define your partner or his behavior throughout the relationship. It’s easy for us to want to lump things into patterns, but when you’ve put an issue to rest, mass generalizations open up old wounds. Treat each instance as a unique event unless you’re ready to end the relationship.

9. You have your own life outside the relationship.

In a healthy relationship, you take space to pursue a life outside your relationship. You choose to be a partner over a groupie. In an unhealthy partnership, you define yourself through the relationship, losing touch with who you are, your friends, values, and hobbies. Relationships should support your growth, not hinder it. If you’re stagnant and losing your identity, it’s time to reevaluate your situation.

10. You communicate what you want instead of what you don't want.

There’s a difference between a complaint and a constructive comment. In a healthy relationship, you communicate what you want. It’s more effective to say “I want us to spend time with my family” rather than saying “We spend too much time with your family and not enough with mine.” While the first is positive and leads to a productive conversation, the latter may signal a defensive response. And, as stated in #4, the purpose of a fight is to fix, not to win.

11. You express gratitude.

Whether it’s a simple “Thanks” or a gesture of appreciation, gratitude goes a long way.

12. You're open and honest instead of passive aggressive.

Saying “whatever you want” may squash a problem now, but it creates a pattern of apathy and resentment. In a healthy relationship, you take responsibility for your decisions and communicate them in a healthy way. Snide remarks and “yeses” that are truly “nos,” only add fuel to future fights.

13. You apologize because you care, not to make a problem go away.

You don’t get points for saying “I’m sorry” unless you really mean it. Similarly, you’re not a better partner when you play the martyr. An apology isn’t about making a fight go away, it’s about overcoming an issue as a team. In a healthy relationship, you choose to be happy rather than right. Often that requires a sincere apology. To do that, don’t end an apology with a qualification (“I’m sorry, but…”). Instead, take responsibility (“I’m sorry because I…”)

14. You ask your partner for help instead of trying to look perfect.

In a healthy relationship, you respect your partner’s experience, guidance, and perspective. You not only trust your partner, but trust that you can be vulnerable with him.

15. You show love every day, not just on special occasions.

Hallmark shouldn’t dictate how and when you say “I love you.”  Sounds obvious, but many of us reserve our loving words and gestures for special occasions. In a healthy relationship, each person acknowledges and recognizes the other daily. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does have to be sincere, for example, stating, “You’re a wonderful mother.” In a healthy relationship, affection is expressed with words, acts, and gestures.

16. You spend quality time together.

Shared experiences extend beyond date night and into every day life. This doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment together. Instead, aim to be present by actively listening and putting away your phone. In a healthy relationship, intimacy is built through conscious connection, choosing quality over quantity.

17. You don't take their choices personally.

In an unhealthy relationship, you choose to make everything your problem. While it can be hard to discern your partner’s problems from yours when they affect you, it’s important to remember that those choices have nothing to do with you. For example, I once dated a man who smoked cigarettes. I felt that his inability to quit was evidence that he didn’t value me or our relationship. And while I spun my wheels rationalizing my argument, the truth is that he is the one who had to deal with the consequences, not me. Things are only your problem when you make them your problem. And while it’s your decision whether to accept your partner’s choices, it’s important to remember not to take them personally. Remember, entering a relationship and hoping your partner will change isn’t fair to either of you. It’s a recipe for disaster. See #2.

18. You are wiling to work on the relationship.

Relationships aren’t easy, they take work. Those who value their relationship are willing to work on themselves individually and as a couple. They’re not afraid of couples counseling, but excited to learn new tools and skills that will troubleshoot and strengthen their relationship.

The quality of your relationship comes down to your choices: Do your actions foster a fulfilling relationship or do you need to clean up your side of the street?

Try this 7-day action plan to create your best relationship yet.

Can't Focus? The 5 Stupid-Simple Tricks To Deal With Distractions

DealWithDistractions

Since I get various forms of this question emailed to me each week, I thought I’d share (with permission, of course)

Dear Amita,

Help! I want to be productive, but I keep getting distracted. I check my email and suddenly an hour’s passed and all I have to show for it is a million open browser tabs (with articles I’ll probably never read), screenshots of memes, and a half-written email. What can I do to stay focused and actually get shit done?

-Cara, Florida*

Cara, you're not alone.

The black hole of the Internet has sucked the life (and hours) out of all of us. While you can’t make the World Wide Web disappear, you can take a few precautionary steps to stop getting caught in it. Let’s break down your question:

1. Define Productivity

When you say you want to be “productive,” what does that really mean? Most people sit at their desk thinking “it's time to do work” without any real action plan for what they’ll get done. It’s easy to distract ourselves or avoid starting an unknown, undefined, or unwanted task. Simply put, No plan = No work.  

2. Limit your Email

Checking email isn’t the same as working. Sure, it feels like work, but it doesn’t equate to productivity. The click-bait headlines tempting us to waste time/money is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is the false sense of direction our inbox provides. We see an unread message and think we need to take action, forcing us to sacrifice our priorities. Inadvertently, we address the urgent rather than the important. To combat this, only check your email after you’ve created your plan. Then, close/silence your email and adjust your plan only if absolutely necessary.

3. Shut it Down

Open tabs are distracting and overwhelming. Instead, bookmark them or copy the link to a document/virtual post it. Then, close down all tabs you aren't ACTIVELY using.

4. Live a Little

Memes are hilarious and oddly empathetic to the human experience. Make time for breaks. You’re a human, not a robot.

5. Break it Up

One of the many reasons we feel overwhelmed is because we add things to our To-Do list rather than taking immediate action.  This was a major pitfall for me until I began using the 2-minute rule: If a task (or email, in your case) takes less than 2 minutes, don’t push it off. Act now! If it takes longer or feels intimidating, break it down into bite-sized, actionable items. Not only will it be easier to start tasks and take consistent action, you’ll feel less stressed and more motivated.

If you spend more time on distractions than you do on work, check out these psychology-backed tweaks to jumpstart your focus and productivity. 

(I post this cheat sheet above my desk…just in case!)

Don't Know What Makes You Happy? Here's Where To Start

Aligned Holistics

I recently had a client contact me wanting to attain “sustainable happiness,” a notion that’s been perpetuated by self-help books, crystal-pedaling hippies, and Prozac commercials.  Humans were not intended to be happy all the time.  Or to be sad all the time.  Or to watch more than one season of a show on Netflix at a time.  We are creatures who need contrast. We can’t appreciate the light without the dark, the Oreo without the cream filling.  But since debating the nature of happiness doesn’t make for a good first impression, I asked her, “What brings you joy?”  Silence.  She had no idea.

I could empathize.  I was once in her place, living in sweatpants, eating junk food, and dating crappy men. The point is, I had no idea what made me happy either.  I was so focused on being happy all the time that I barely noticed what made me happy when I was. And that’s exactly why I was unhappy.

The truth is that it’s freakin’ hard to say what makes us happy, but in the moment, when we feel true bliss, we’re able to pinpoint with certainty the exact thing that changed our state. It could be ice cream on a hot day, puppy cuddles after a bad date, or finally feeling the AC when you’re stuck on the subway.

But if you’re a vegan, a cat-lover, or chronically cold, don’t despair! There’s an easy solution to your pleasure puzzle.

Ready for it?

Next time something good happens, stop and actually appreciate it. Sounds ridiculously simple? In theory, yes. In reality, no.

How Savoring Works:

Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12% more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives.
— David Niven

As I’m writing this, I had to turn my wifi off. Why? Because I’ve been conditioned to be a multitasking machine. Among my favorite distracting tasks (including, but not limited to making Spotify playlists, picking at my split-ends, and texting friends), is the incessant checking of Facebook. I don’t enjoy it, I’m like a mosquito drawn to a bug zapper. Even writing outside, an activity that gives me peace and clarity is greatly diminished. Why? Because the less I notice any one thing, the less I am able to enjoy anything.

So what happens when I go off the grid and savor a moment? I notice the nuances: the sights, sounds, and smells that make writing outside feel amazing. Every time we savor, we’re making a deposit into our happiness account. It all adds up. As David Niven notes, "Those who said they regularly took notice of something beautiful were 12% more likely to say they were satisfied with their lives." The truth is that we see what we look for. Practice savoring and you’ll be conditioned to notice the things that make you happy and not just the crap that brings you down. I

So How Exactly Does One Savor?

1. Slow the F*ck down.

That means turn off the TV while you eat. Don’t watch football online when you’re on a Skype date with your girlfriend (Yes, I’m still pissed about that!) The old adage “stop and smell the roses” is backed up by research in positive psychology.

2. Get grateful.

It’s easy to focus on the negative. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. It helps us to identify a problem and takes steps to solve it. When dialed up too high, this strength becomes a weakness, forcing us to only see what isn’t working in life. Instead, notice what’s going right by writing a gratitude list. Not only will this improve your mood in the moment, you’ll rewire your brain to be happier more often.

3. Celebrate your wins.

It’s easy to ignore both our small victories and big accomplishments. We’re great at supporting others, but bad at rewarding ourselves. Rather than waiting to achieve an outcome, start savoring the steps you’re taking by celebrating the mini-milestones. Don’t feel like you deserve it? How would you respond to a friend who told you she didn't deserve to celebrate her accomplishment? Simply put, take a vacation, book a massage, buy the shoes.

4. Don’t dump on others.

When asked “How was your day?" most of us are tempted to launch into a tirade of “Chad’s” obnoxious behavior, insane traffic, or some other negative experience. There’s a time and place to vent, and it shouldn’t always be on your partner. Sharing positive experiences and accomplishments will increase your happiness and strengthen your relationship.

5. Control the conflict.

Sounds counter-intuitive, but savoring helps you to keep cool during a conflict. If you’ve ever felt angry and thought “I love you, but I can’t stand you right now!” then you know how hard it is to have a productive conversation when pissed. When we’re angry, our focus narrows onto the other person’s perceived failures. Shift yourself back to a more realistic view by thinking and/or sharing something you appreciate about the other person. This simple tool allows both people to let their guard down and focus on fighting to fix rather than fighting to win.

 

The Takeaway:

Ultimately, your focus determines your happiness. If you’re so concerned with being happy all the time, you’ll ignore the moments when you actually are. Don’t know what makes you happy? That’s fine. Just focus on the feeling when it comes up. Take in the entire sensory experience. Over time, you’ll strengthen your ability to notice the good and ignore the crap, improving both your mood and your relationships. And to me, that’s much better than crystals, Prozac, or Netflix.