Communication

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.

How to Fight Like an Adult

I just got back to NYC after an amazing 2 week vacation with my boyfriend and the best part of our trip wasn’t swimming with sea turtles, sunsets, or sex. It was fighting with him. Nothing tells me more about a relationship than how we handle conflict. And you can be sure that 2 weeks with me is bound to create conflict, whether it be my incessant need to both drive and navigate or my hanger when I’m not promptly fed. In the past, I wavered between needing to be right about everything or shoving my feelings down and agreeing with people like a passive-aggressive martyr. It was enough to give you whiplash. But after enough failed attempts, I’ve finally learned how to respect my boundaries and handle conflict in a loving way. So how did we use conflict to bring us closer and not break us? 

We followed these 5 simple rules:

1. Keep the goal in mind. I often ask myself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?” This isn’t to quell my insatiable thirst to win, it simply reminds me that the goal of conflict is not to win, it’s to find a resolution. 

2. Avoid grandiose statements.  I’ve been known to lack an edit function when I speak. And on most occasions, that’s still true. Except when there’s a conflict. If I’m consciously using Tip #1, I have the ability to reflect on how I’d feel if I heard the crap coming out of my mouth. Statements like “You always...” or “You never...” immediately tell the person that shit is about to hit the fan. One instance of doing something that you don’t like doesn’t define your partner or his behavior throughout the relationship. Sure, it’s easy to lump things into patterns. And in an effort to keep ourselves safe, it’s our immediate instinct. But, you’re more likely to find a resolution if you treat the event as an isolated incident.

3. Replace your conjunctions. Similar to #2, sometimes the little words make all the difference. Replacing “but” with “and” shifts the conflict from a struggle to a solution, “I know you think we should go on a hike, and I’m hungry, so what can we do about that?” That’s very different than “I know you want to go on a hike, but I’m hungry. Feed me now!!!”

4. Confirm your understanding. Most conflicts are heightened because we don’t hear what the other person is saying. Left to my own devices, I am either planning my retort or unconsciously assigning meaning to things. A simple, “Can you help me to understand why you feel that way?” or “what I’m hearing you say is that…” not only brings me to the present situation, but gives the other person an opportunity to clarify his meaning. 

5. Say what you want instead of what you don’t want. There’s a difference between a complaint and a constructive comment. Instead of “I can’t stand when you leave the toilet seat up,” it’s more effective to say “I’d really like it if you’d put the toilet seat down after you use it.” A positive approach puts people at ease rather than signaling them to prepare for battle. 

And there you have it. 15 years of unnecessary conflict consolidated into 5 tips. Use them and watch your relationships with friends, family, and coworkers transform!

Why I Started Listening to My Inner Critic

I hear a lot of coaches talk about the battle against our “inner critic,” that little nay-saying nag that lives in our heads whose sole purpose is to convince us that we suck.  Admittedly, I was one of them. And until somewhat recently, I thought that was pretty sensible. After all, why indulge the bitch living in my brain? Shouldn’t I fight against her?

So, I prayed on it. I threw affirmations at it. I meditated on it. I therapized at it. I pretty much hit it with every self-help trick known to man.

And that’s when I decided to try something new. Why? Because a different approach yields a different result. Would my new strategy be better or worse? I was prepared to find out.

I decided to (consciously) indulge and hear her out. What did she actually have to say? Could I listen to it without getting emotional or telling her to f*ck off?

I invited my inner critic to lunch. It was kind of like those “let’s make peace” lunches you see on the Real Housewives of ______ (insert your closest city here) where the meeting of the minds either leads to a resolution, or at the very least, an entertaining episode.

And so we engaged in a dialogue.

It went something like this:

“I think it’s time I take things to the next level.”

“WTF? Are you nuts? You’ll never be any good at that. Why try? You don’t have what it takes. BTW, who do you think you’re kidding with that push up bra. You’re not fooling anyone, honey.”

(Right about here is where I’d normally throw a drink in her face)

“Thanks. I know you’re here to keep me safe. To make sure I never do anything that makes me uncomfortable. I know you like to protect me from being scared. And for a while, that was helpful & super comfy.”

“So why rock the boat? It’s safer to be sensible. Just keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Change=Bad. ”

“Cause I’m no longer comfortable being comfortable. I’m tired of playing small. I’d rather take a risk and move forward, than be safe and stay in the same spot.”

The battle continued with snark thrown from both sides, but you get the point:

I engaged. I thanked her for her role. And I non-judgmentally stated my case.

Ultimately, your inner critic is a strength that’s dialed up too high. It existed at one point to help you obey rules and color inside the lines, but as adult, it no longer serves you. If you deny any part of yourself, it will eventually come out in a bitchy and/or maladaptive way. For example, I have a friend who is scared shitless to communicate his feelings. His inner critic tells him that if he does, people won’t stay in his life. So instead of talking things out, he waits until it builds up and erupts. Not surprisingly, his relationships look a lot like Pompeii.

So, instead of rejecting your inner critic or letting any one voice be louder than the others, get curious and hear each part of you out.

The Takeaway:

No decision is one sided. Allow each voice in your head to have a turn to speak: the angel, the devil, and everything in between.