Is your relationship happy and healthy?
If not, the impact on how you feel emotionally, and the overall wellbeing of your family is impacted.
Investing in this relationship pays big dividends emotionally and physically. Research shows that adults in healthy relationships live longer with improved physical health. And children who grow up in these households are more likely to have healthy relationships as they know what a good relationship looks and feels like as they had it modelled to them.
There are some key characteristics of the happiest (and healthiest) relationships that can help you assess the health of your intimate relationship. And if any are missing, you have some direction on what needs your attention.
12 Key Characteristics
Trust – trust is cited as the most important need in intimate relationships by almost everyone. Without trust, there is a lack of a solid foundation on which to build emotional intimacy. And without a solid foundation of trust, there will be uncertainty about whether you are can really trust and rely on your partner to be there for you and to not hurt you. If trust has been broken or weakened, there are ways to rebuild it – which must be addressed to shore up the foundation of your relationship.
Respect – in happy and healthy relationships, partners talk in a way that respects and honours the importance and value of the other. They do not debase, invalidate, or belittle. They value each other’s opinions, privacy, and time. When respect begins to erode in a relationship, damage is created which can be painstaking to rebuild.
Openness & Honesty – honesty and trust are closely linked, but with them comes openness. A willingness to openly share your true self with your partner is an act of vulnerability that fosters a sense of intimacy and connection. Partners who mask their true selves, hide their emotional realities, or actively deceive their partners erode the foundation of trust needed in intimate relationships.
Communication – the ability to talk, especially about the hard stuff, is necessary to create stability and security in your relationship. If important conversations are avoided, or escalate into heated conflict, it leaves important issues unresolved. It is okay if communication does not come easily to you, but it is important to work on it as strong and healthy communication is the energy that nourishes good relationships.
Empathy – the willingness to take another’s perspective is helpful in many of your relationships and interactions – whether in parenting, with colleagues, or being a good neighbour. However, the most important person who deserves your empathy is your partner. It can be challenging to hold empathy, especially if you might disagree with your partner or they have done something hurtful to you. But this is a trait that happy couples intentionally work on with each other.
Appreciation – the importance of gratitude within relationships is striking. It leaves us feeling happier and more secure with our partners. Even small expressions of appreciation improve relationship satisfaction. Do not underestimate the significance of a simple “thank you” for something your partner did.
Patience – the ability to extend grace and give your partner the benefit of the doubt creates a sense of goodwill in your relationship. Being patient, flexible and supportive when your partner is having a bad day fosters a sense of safety and acceptance. When partners are chronically impatient with each other, there is an underlying feeling of tension. You may have experienced the sensation of “walking on eggshells” which feels bad. Being able to extend patience and grace to your partner’s moods in day-to-day life – within reason – creates a feeling of being unconditionally loved.
Healthy Conflict Resolution – research shows that the way couples argue – or avoid conflict – can predict a lot about their relationship success. The ability to resolve issues is an important predictor of the health of a relationship. Ironically, couples that hide their upset from one another to preserve the illusion of everything being perfect are worse off than the couple that express their emotions and work to resolve them, even when it causes conflict. In short, healthy relationships can break out of a negative pattern of interaction of stonewalling or escalating into attack mode when there is a problem or a difference of opinion. They can remain emotionally connected to themselves and each other to work through the challenge they are experiencing with respect, empathy and understanding. It is not always easy to do this, but it is vital to the health of your most important relationship.
Individuality & Boundaries – the ability to have a sense of yourself and personal boundaries while sharing a bond and relationship is the ideal couples are encouraged to strive for. The sweet spot of a relationship in the intersection where similarities create a foundation of connection but there is also space for individual differences which are respected and valued. A strong, healthy relationship brings to mind a Venn diagram – there is adequate overlap to maintain a strong connection, while each person has the freedom to still live their own life, especially in terms of professional goals, hobbies, and friendships.
Room for Growth – growth is an important aspect of health and vitality. The absence of growth can lead to people feeling stagnant or worse yet, stuck. It is unrealistic and unhealthy to expect two people to remain the same over the years or decades of a long-term relationship. Your hopes, fears, interests, and goals will evolve and change over time, and that is a good thing. Embracing a growth mindset for yourself, your partner and your relationship is a sign of health and wellness.
Flexibility – relationships require flexibility and compromise. On a day-to-day basis, if just one partner is always bending and adjusting, the relationship will become unbalanced and perhaps even toxic over time. In healthy relationships, both partners are willing to adjust and engage in a give-and-take that is essential for the health of the relationship. They are able to tune into what matters most to each person and what needs to be prioritized.
Affection & Interest – it is obvious that love should be a part of a healthy relationship, but just as important is to really like each other. And when we truly like someone, it is easy to demonstrate that positive feeling by how we interact with them. The sound of our voice when we receive a phone call from them, the way we greet them when seeing each other, and how we show interest in their lives. Small gestures matter. Physical attraction and connection are special, but so is a look from across the room that conveys, “I am glad I am in this life together with you” or a touch on the shoulder that says, “You matter.”
Creating a healthy relationship is possible. Yes it is work, but it is worth the effort. Consider focusing on one or two of the above strategies to build a stronger foundation under your relationship. And if you are concerned that maybe your relationship needs more focused attention, we have therapists ready to help you build a stronger, happier relationship.