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?