Relationships

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.

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Feels Lonely on Facebook

Isolation is an epidemic.

The other night, after a particularly long social media binge, I felt the sudden onset of a hangover. While it may not have started in wine or ended in a headache, the similar anxious, listless, comfortless quality was palpably present. It was a classic emotional hangover. The irony, of course, was that it came from an outlet designed to foster connection from the comfort of my couch.

The truth is that social media has grown far beyond friendships and is now a tool used to sell teeth-whiteners, compare ourselves to our exes, and fake a fantasy life.  As Facebook continues to exacerbate our need for authentic connection, our social skills continue to degenerate.

Sure, we can interact. But, can we connect?

If you’d rather text than talk, order food online over using a phone, or scroll through Instagram pics rather than seeing friends in person, then this post is for you.

Social connection impacts our emotional and physical health. According to former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, isolation and loneliness can create chronic stress, similar to factors such as illness, poverty, discrimination, and violence. It’s a growing epidemic: In the 1980s, 20% of adult Americans said they were lonely. Today, the percentage has doubled to 40%.

The good news is that you don’t have to swear off social media to create more connection. Here are:

7 steps to build better relationships:

1) Upgrade your connection.

No, I’m not talking about your internet speed. Instead of texting, talk on the phone. Meet friends and colleagues in person. Even Facetime and Skype can build better bonds. Feeling short on time? Remember, just because something is efficient, doesn’t make it better. Communication on each medium varies. So, avoid the misunderstandings and deepen your relationships by upgrading how you communicate.

2) Accept the friend request.

Often, we place people in categories without giving them a real chance. Deepen your current connections by:

  • Trying something new (e.g. going for a hike instead of a drink)
  • Sharing how you feel (e.g. being vulnerable and honest)
  • Working on it rather than dismissing it (e.g. being courageous enough to troubleshoot problems rather than ghosting) 

3) Who dis?

Define what you want in a friend down to every last detail. Want a bestie who does yoga, yoda impressions, and yodels with her yorkie? Weird, but cool. You have to know what you want to know if you have it and where to find it.

4) Expand your circle with friends, not followers.

The best way to meet people with similar interests is by exploring your own. Upgrade your activities by rekindling an old hobby or starting a new one. If you want to meet the right people, you need to be your best self. That means less time doing what isn’t working and more time doing things that speak to your passions and values.

5) Disconnect.

I can’t tell you how many times I go to a restaurant and see people ignoring each other and staring at their phones (even when they're on a date!) Unless there’s a life-threatening emergency, let the other person know you actually want to be there by silencing your phone and putting it away.

6) Can you hear me now?

So often we listen to respond rather than to hear. Instead of secretly planning your response, let their words sink in. Your undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give someone and the key to understanding and empathy.

    7) Still loading.

    Loneliness is normal. Even with strong relationships, this natural human emotion is bound to surface. Our feelings of isolation took time to develop, so don’t expect overnight results. Be patient with yourself and others, focusing on the steps you’re taking instead of how far you have to go.

    The Takeaway:

    Whether you’re surrounded by people or alone on your couch, isolation is a growing issue. Don’t let the number of Facebook friends or followers define you, your relationships, or your time. In any moment, you can take simple steps to feel less lonely and create more connection.

    Healthy Selfishness: How To Stop People-Pleasing and Start Prioritizing Yourself

    Chances are, you can name one thing you could be doing to take care better care of yourself. And despite knowing that drinking more water/meditating each day/ flossing your teeth is good for you, I’m willing to bet that you’re still not doing it.

    It's likely because:

    1. You don’t have enough time
    2. It’s inconvenient or annoying
    3. The advantages/disadvantages are too far in the future to seem relevant
    4. It tastes/feels like crap
    5. It would involve saying “no” to something or someone else

    I often write about issues #1-3 when discussing procrastination, time management, or motivation.

    But, today I’m doing a deep dive into issue #5: Setting Boundaries. Or, as I like to call it, “how to say “no” to them and “yes” to me without seeming like a selfish jerkface.”
    (And sorry, I can’t do much about Issue #4. Kale will never taste like a cupcake.)

    Like most people, I care what people think. I care whether my friends think I’m supportive and I care whether the guy at the bakery judges me when I ask him to write affirmations in icing on the 5” chocolate cake I buy for myself (true story!)

    Unlike most people, I’ve accepted and internalized that self-care needs to be my biggest priority. But that wasn’t always true. For most of my life, I put others first only to be surprised when I’d get sick, feel disappointed, burn out, etc. I assumed that I felt sick, tired, or sad because of the job, the boyfriend, or the autoplay feature on Netflix. But, like all things, the common denominator was me. If I wanted to feel balanced and blissful, I was the one that needed to change.

    As we all know, change sucks and is never easy.

    A lifetime of saying “yes,” people-pleasing, and over-achieving wasn’t going to change overnight. In fact, it was so ingrained in me that I often didn’t even know I was saying “yes” when I really meant “no.” Over time, all of those yeses added up to exhaustion, frustration, and unmet expectations. I struggled to find a way to support others sustainably without compromising my health and happiness.

    Once I accepted that I was my biggest obstacle, I started looking at the ways I kept these patterns alive. And that’s when it hit me: I was giving away my time and energy, telling people I had no expectations when I most definitely expected them to reciprocate my actions in the future. I’d tell friends “of course, I don’t mind picking you up from the airport,” only to feel disappointed waiting for a cab in the dead of winter.

    If my life is the result of my actions and non-actions, then changing my life is also within my control.

    From that moment, I started employing a strategy that changed my life. It empowered me to communicate effectively, transform my relationships, and create more energy, happiness, and time. Here it is:

    Is your “yes” really a “no?”

    The goal of this exercise is to identify, manage, and communicate your needs so that you’re better able to prioritize yourself.

    1. Pause.

    Before offering to help, accepting an invitation, or saying “yes,” ask yourself:

    1. Am I prepared to do this without any hope that it will be returned to me in any shape or form (now or in the future?)
    2. What will this cost me now? 6 months from now? (consider your time, energy, and sanity)
    3. Is my desire to say “yes” driven by generosity or because I think that prioritizing myself will result in a negative outcome?

    2. Decide.

    If you can’t act without expectation, consider the cost.
    If the cost is too great, consider your reason.
    If your reason is based in fear, consider yourself more.

    Simply put, decide whether saying “yes” to them means saying “no” to you. If so, choose to prioritize yourself.

    3. Communicate.

    State your boundary clearly, directly, respectfully, without qualifying statements or rationales. Saying “I can’t work late on the project today” is more effective than “I can’t work late because my cousin’s friend’s baby is having a birthday party, but I will work on the project when I get home at 10pm.”

    4. Maintain.

    The other person’s reaction has nothing to do with you. Avoid the temptation to weaken or take back your response. Doing so damages your self-trust, continues to prioritize others, and teaches others that your words have no meaning.

    5. Reinforce.

    You may need to remind yourself and others of your boundaries. That’s okay! Putting yourself first is a new behavior and will take practice and patience.

    Use this tool to ensure you're creating space for yourself, your needs, and your happiness.

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