What Makes a Healthy Relationship?
Hollywood movies, romance novels, people we know – these are all things that can influence our idea of an ideal romantic relationship. But, as these sources of information aren’t always the most reliable, how do we know what a healthy relationship looks like realistically? And, why should we care?
Humans are social creatures - we thrive off creating connections with others. So it makes sense that relationships can impact the way you feel about yourself. A healthy relationship fosters feelings of self-worth and self-assuredness, whilst one that may not be so healthy can leave us feeling insecure, belittled, or afraid. This is not to highlight that any one person may be at fault; however, It is important to be able to identify a healthy relationship from one that may not be the best for us, in order for us to grow within and outside of a relationship.
So, without further ado, here are four cornerstones that make a healthy relationship:
Yes, it’s a big word, but this is probably the most important factor in nurturing a healthy relationship. Respect should be the foundation on which two individuals meet each other at. This means, respecting that each individual has come from a different background with their own unique experiences, and that these experiences make them who they are. Respect also means recognising and appreciating their boundaries, as well as viewing their feelings, wishes and opinions as of equal importance to yours, and trusting that your partner is trying their best (e.g. being forgiving and understanding of where they might be coming from when they make a mistake).
A relationship with respect should feel safe and secure, and communicating one’s thoughts and feelings should feel the same. A relationship without respect can fall towards manipulative or abusive tendencies, which can negatively impact self-esteem, as well as one’s safety.
No surprises here – communication can make or break a relationship. Communication encompasses many layers of social interaction – much more than just the words you use. It also includes your tone, your engagement, your body language, etc. Whilst the compatibility of two individuals in these departments may come more naturally for some than others, it is important to continually work on how you communicate as well as how you listen. Perhaps the most important aspect of communication is showing up – being present and being willing to listen and have an open conversation about something.
A healthy communication style between partners allows for both partners needs’ to feel acknowledged and respected. Furthermore, healthy communication promotes healthy arguing (which is, by the way, totally normal). Instead of it being a situation where you are pitted against each other, it is a more constructive discussion in which you act like a team to tackle an issue together.
On the other hand, poor communication between partners can have one’s needs highlighted through a less productive manner, such as feeling as though you must control your partner for them to understand your needs.
3. Affection and fun
Another no-brainer. This one might be especially easy to nail in newer relationships, but for those in long-term relationships, we might become so comfortable in it that we forget to indulge each other in fun activities and affection. A healthy relationship should be both loving and supportive, and silly and playful. Being comfortable enough with someone to show them your not-so-glamorous side can feel especially liberating in a romantic relationship, and can build trust between the two of you too.
And finally, last but definitely not least – celebrating and respecting our own and each other’s independence. It is important to recognise and honour the fact that you are two individuals, and not two halves that make one whole. A healthy relationship is fostered through independence, which includes continuing the activities, friendships and interests that you had prior to the relationship.
Whilst individuals might have different expectations of what independence might mean to them, it is important to be able to identify toxic and abusive behaviours that might be perceived as love. Controlling tendencies, or a gradual removal of independence – partners can say things make you feel like you can’t live without them (think “no one loves you like I do”, or “I love you so much, that’s why I X”), are some examples of this. Other ways these tendencies show could be through dictating one’s livelihood – such as controlling funds, or suggesting that a partner doesn’t need to work anymore. These are some examples of warning signs that the relationship may be not super healthy, and identifying these symptoms can be the first step to improving it.
So all in all, whilst no relationship is perfect (and it is in fact quite counterintuitive to seek perfection in someone else or in a relationship), it is important to be mindful of these four foundational aspects to a healthy relationship. For more information and help on relationships, whether it be with yourself, or with others, our individual therapy service can help you with developing skills to foster a healthy relationship.