Love

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.

11 Ways To Tell If You’re Ready To Date

A client recently asked me about my love life. “How do you decide when you’re ready to start dating after a breakup?”

Instead of acting like a coach, I decided to lay out the action plan I use. Self-disclosure, when done correctly, can be a powerful and healing tool with clients. And since my last relationship ended a few months ago, I figured the Universe needed me to hear what I was about to tell her.

First, let’s address the question I'm always asked (and ask myself) after a breakup:

How long should I wait before I can date again?

People ask me this for a few reasons:

  1. They have an underlying belief in scarcity. They don’t want to “waste time” because they feel their chances of meeting the right person decrease with age.
  2. They think a rebound will help them move forward. (I blame snarky, well-intentioned friends for gems like "The best way to get over someone is by getting under someone else." WRONG.)
  3. They don’t feel ready and instead feel scared or overwhelmed. They wonder if/when they’ll be able to fully open themselves up to love or even be interested in pursuing a partner.
  4. They want to play it safe by avoiding the potential to be hurt again.
  5. They don’t want to make the same mistakes again.

While many of these reasons may feel true, feelings aren’t facts.

Reasons #1-5 are routed in fear.  Fear forces us to focus on what we don’t want, and because of it, we wind up attracting the exact thing we’re trying to avoid.

For example, if you were codependent in your last relationship and your partner was controlling or narcissistic, you may be telling yourself “I don’t want my next partner to be like that!” You’d think this protective measure keeps you safe, but all it does is reaffirm your beliefs about yourself. It also means that you're less likely to notice the good people you do meet.

So how long should you wait? It’s different for everyone. I’ve heard generalizations about half the length of your relationship. Or add on a year if there was infidelity or subtract a year if it was mutual. But equations aside, it comes down to you, your journey, and your beliefs.

I had a client recently ask me, it’s been 3 months, am I ready to date? My response, “Let’s pretend you met a man who, like you, had been married for 5 years. On a first date he revealed he was divorced 3 months ago. How would you feel? Would you be comfortable with that?” If you are, great! If not, wait.

So rather than focus on time, I like to focus on the benchmarks of emotional availability. And that brings us to the system I use to figure out if I’m ready to date.

How I Tell If I'm Ready To Date:

1. I’m out of the headspace of blame.

I may not be over the loss of the person, but I’m not ordering a Voodoo doll on Amazon Prime (cause anger requires 2 day shipping.) In other words, it’s fine to still mourn the relationship itself, but if you’re still harboring resentments, you won’t be emotionally available for someone new.

2. I know what I want in a partner.

It sounds obvious, but people who have a fuzzy sense of what they want only get a fuzzy version of that they want in return. I'm ready to move on if I’ve revised my list of must haves, would like to haves, and won’t haves to include specifics. For example, instead of saying “I want someone who’s intelligent” I clarify what I want that intelligence to look like. Trust that when you define what it is that you want, you'll find it.

3. I’m the right kind of selfish.

My self care is a non-negotiable. It’s the Foundation for everything I do. If my self-care is not where I’d like it to be, I make sure to spend some extra time on it. Because when I’m not feeling like my best self, I don’t act like my best self.

4. I know myself.

Sometimes after a relationship, we wake up wondering “who the F$#! did I turn into?!" If that happened, I get back to the hobbies and activities that connect me to myself. I remind myself of the things that light me up and the things that piss me off. Why? Because people with self-awareness are more likely to identify a partner who's right for them, get their needs met, and find happiness in a relationship, while still maintaining independence and personal growth. And isn’t that what we all want and deserve?!

5. I’m not looking for anyone to fix me.

I’m not broken, no one is. Sure, maybe there are things I’d like to change in my life, but that’s my job. It’s not for my partner to do. Whatever you’ve got going on, ask yourself whether you are ready and willing to address it head on. Stop waiting around to be "saved" and start saving yourself.

6. I’m not trying to fix anyone.

I’ve got baggage and so will my partner. It's inevitable. And while it would be great to change people's annoying habits, I know how to accept people for who they are rather than who I want them to be. Your ability to compromise or cut ties will not only bring the right person in, it'll help you to weed out the wrong ones. Remember, you want a partner, not a fixer-upper.

7. I am emotionally and physically available.

I ask myself whether I’ve created space for a partner. No, that doesn't mean a drawer in your dresser (NYC real estate is insane!) It means I’m willing and able to give and receive love. That also means I'm not killing time with "Mr. Right Now" as I wait to find a great partner.

8. I’m okay with being flawed (even if I don't like it).

I get that as much as I may try, I can't always be perfect. This annoys me. But I am willing to open myself up, be vulnerable, and occasionally risk looking like an idiot. I accept that being myself and receiving love yields a better outcome than being someone else and walking on eggshells.

9. I’ve learned from the past.

Until I’ve taken the time to look at my role in my last relationship and address historical patterns, I’m not ready to move on. Without doing that, I’ll most likely repeat the same mistakes with a different cast of characters. Instead of only focusing on assessing your ex’s shortcoming, take a look at how you could have acted differently. In other words, own your shit.

10. I know my triggers and patterns.

While we all have blindspots, I’ve carefully considered my triggers. These are the topics that make me go 0-60 in 6 seconds flat. The things that elicit a similar reaction to when my parents ask “Are you ever planning on getting married?!” Until you know your trigger points, dating will feel like a game of Minesweeper.

11. I don’t feel like I NEED To.

Ahhh, the irony of this one. I know I’m ready to date when I’m not doing because I “should.”  I’m not doing it to fill a literal or figurative hole in my life. When I feel like I can be single & happy, I know I’m ready to date.

 

The 5 Characteristics of Couples That Last

Happy Couple

As a coach, sometimes I feel like an outsider looking into my own life wondering, “WTF is she doing?!”

See, being a coach can be a challenging skill to turn off. And it’s not just my inner-crazy that I need to contend with. It’s everyone else’s. And while my boyfriend signed on as my partner, he didn’t sign up to be a client.
Sucks for him, he has a coach whether or not he likes it. 

This came to mind when I was studying relationships from a therapist’s point of view. I love getting a clinical perspective on things I’ve experienced. Learning about Depression, for instance, has been validating, triggering, and illuminating all at the same time. 

Studying relationships, however, is like Googling a symptom and diagnosing yourself with every known disease.
At the same time.
Learning about what it takes to be in a successful relationship while being in one is, at best laced with frustration, and at worst a recipe for disaster.   

What I’ve come to learn is that the beginning of relationships is filled with romance, wooing, passion and cheese plates. Over time, successful couples develop more comfort and work to create a loving companionship. This is fostered by 

The 5 Characteristics of Couples That Last:

1. Dedication

A skilled clinician can tell within 10 minutes of meeting a couple whether their relationship stands a chance. How? By asking a simple question, “How committed are you to making this work?” This level of dedication not only informs whether they will last, but the overall level of satisfaction. High conflict doesn’t make for a bad relationship. It’s about whether the conflict gets resolved or shoved to the side (and results in a Pompeii-esque eruption). As long as both parties are willing to work for it, there’s a good chance they can make it work.

2. Appreciation

Couples who happily stay together love and appreciate each other. I don’t care what Disney says, love is not enough. Successful couples admire and genuinely respect each other’s point of view, values, and goals.

3. Empathy

Empathy, as opposed to sympathy, is understanding how others feel from their perspective. Happy couples actively work to validate each other. This, in turn, increases prosocial behaviors (such as helping, volunteering, and expressing concern). 

4. Sexual Attraction

We’ve been conditioned to believe that attraction inevitably fades in time. As men approach middle age, testosterone declines and it may take more time and work to create excitement. Women, on the other hand have proportionately more estrogen and enter what I like to call their dirty thirties (or filthy forties). This increase in desire coupled with the male’s decline can impact one’s self-esteem and the relationship itself. At that point, attraction becomes even more important. The good news is that chemistry increases when both people share why they are attracted to the other person, whether that be physically or emotionally. 

5. Companionship

Happy couples enjoy spending time together. No, not just sitting next to each other while watching reruns of Family Guy. I mean actually spending quality time together and making it a priority. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many couples only hang out while running errands, discussing daycare, or fighting about who left the cap off the toothpaste.

Want to make your relationship last?

Download the 7 Skills To Improve Any Relationship Worksheet.