What constitutes a healthy relationship is ever-changing as we evolve. What was considered “healthy” half a century ago, is by no means close to what we would tolerate in a relationship today.
In recent years, terms like gaslighting and narcissistic tendencies have entered the mainstream lexicon, making us more aware of toxic traits in relationships.
Then there’s the fallout of the recent pandemic. Many couples who thought they had healthy relationships realized that when it came to working from home, domestic duties and childcare were far from equal—prompting a surge in divorce cases.
When it comes to our romantic relationships, how do we know if we’re in a healthy relationship and what even constitutes being healthy to begin with?
Here’s a handle on if you’re in a healthy relationship.
1) Mutual respect is mandatory
Mutual respect is at the heart of any relationship and it means that you treat one another thoughtfully and courteously.
Actress Michelle Pfeiffer has been married to director David E. Kelley since 1993. In an interview with Interview Magazine back in 2012, Pfeiffer said the “secret sauce” to her long standing marriage is mutual respect.
“I chose really well with David,” she said. “I got really lucky. And 19 years later, I never take him for granted. I’ve never met a person who has more integrity than my husband. I respect that. There’s his humor and intelligence, too, and he’s really cute, all those things—but if you don’t respect your partner, you’ll get sick of him.”
At its most basic level respecting your partner means you don’t treat each other in ways that are rude and disrespectful. This means belittling, name calling, insulting, or demeaning your significant other. It also means that you do not talk sarcastically to, or ignore or avoid your partner.
But respect isn’t just the absence of negative behavior, it’s also the presence of positive behaviors, say the staff at Centers for Family Change. “Mutual respect means that you view the opinions, wishes and values of your partner as worthy of serious consideration.”
Respecting your partner isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes consistent effort.
“Specifically, if you are treating your spouse or partner respectfully you are doing things such as: considering their opinion; consulting with your partner before making decisions that affect your partner; taking an active interest in your spouse’s or partner’s life (work, daily activities and interests); compromising and negotiating with your partner about important issues that affect both of you and your family.”
Respect also means that boundaries are honored and respected.
2) You both believe that trust is paramount
Reena B. Patel, a San Diego-based licensed educational psychologist. “Lack of trust can sabotage a relationship before it begins,” she says.
“Trust provides motivation and positive energy to help support a healthy relationship.” Patel says that respect shows your partner you value them, allowing you to feel secure and confident.
Trust occurs when your partner’s thoughts align with their words and actions (as do yours), adds dating and relationship coach Laurel House.
“You don’t sit and wonder if what they are saying is what they’re actually feeling, or what they’re saying is what they are actually doing. You trust that they are being honest and true,” she says.
3) You bring out the best in each other
One of the beautiful things about being in a healthy relationship is that the two of you bring out the best in each other.
The late Queen Elizabeth II and her late husband, Prince Philip, were married for well over 70 years. One anecdote about the long lasting couple is that just before stepping into an event together, Prince Philip would give his wife a confidence boost. He would compliment her outfit, or he would say something that he knew would make her laugh.
Royal expert Tina Brown has said that this was a deliberate move on the Duke of Edinburgh’s part because he wanted her to shine at the event. The emotional boost helped her be at her best, most charming, lighthearted and confident self.
That’s what healthy couples do for each other. They help one another shine.
You also teach each other things, says LovePanky relationship writer Bennett O’Brien.
“If your partner is someone whom you respect, and you feel is your equal, there is a good chance that you can learn a lot from them,” he says. “People tend to have knowledge about different subjects, and by spending a lot of time with your partner, some of his or her knowledge about things will probably rub off onto you, and vice versa.”
O’Brien says that when a couple shares their knowledge and experiences with each other, they’re also indirectly learning about things you wouldn’t otherwise know about.
“It makes you a more well-rounded and more cultured person when you’re open to taking in the information you get from your partner,” he says.
But in order to bring out the best in each other and have a healthy relationship, you have to have a healthy dose of self-love in there, too.
Have you assessed how easy—or difficult—it is to be truly yourself in the relationship?
We know you deeply long to form a loving relationship—and no doubt you deserve to have it—but there might be things you’re brushing aside.
For example, not having a healthy self-concept can have you feeling deeply disconnected from your beloved.
Or you might be hiding a certain aspect about yourself because you’re afraid of being judged or bringing on a negative response.
Maybe you can’t put your finger on it, but you feel that something just isn’t quite right about the relationship.
Come out of the love fog and discover what’s holding you back from your dream relationship and learn how to overcome it by taking this quiz by Rudá Iandê.
This quiz cuts to the core of the issue(s) that are preventing you from having a happy, healthy, and mutually-fulfilling relationship.
Challenges like trust and respect are explored so that you can identify the triggers that are testing your bond.
Questions include your comfort level in expressing your opinions and disagreements with your partner.
4) You both have different interests
A healthy relationship doesn’t mean that you have to be joined at the hip.
While common interests can help you feel connected, sharing everything can feel smothering, say marriage experts.
“Being able to say, ‘We have so much in common,’ isn’t everything. Sometimes mutual interest in relationships can be overwhelming,” says Marriage.com relationship writer, Rachel Pace.
This is especially true if you and your partner never do anything apart because you share all of the same hobbies.
Everyone should be able to have an identity independent of the relationship.
“When you have your own unique interests outside of shared interests, it allows you to branch out and do your own thing. This makes for a more balanced romantic experience,” says Pace.
5) You are grateful for small, everyday genuine gestures
I’ll take consistent small gestures of love over once in a blue moon grandiose declarations any day.
Psychologists say that small, everyday gestures can do more for your relationship than those that are over-the-top.
Researchers at the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State asked 495 American adults about whether they would feel loved in 60 different scenarios.
Small gestures of love won out—and they didn’t have to be typically romantic ones like giving flowers.
Showing compassion when a partner is going through a hard time ranked higher than roses.
Consistent small gestures add up with time was the key takeaway to the study.
This could mean acts of kindness like letting your partner sleep in while you made them coffee, or sending a loving text in the middle of the day.
The study said that these small gestures built tenderness and that they show that both partners are tuned into each other on an emotional level.
Thanks and praise also ranked pretty high, as well as apologizing when a partner’s feelings are hurt.
Of course appreciation is also a simple act that pays dividends, according to the study. This could mean praising your partner for a lovely dinner or for the petunias they planted in the garden.
Displays of affection also came up high as did sweet rituals (say a glass of wine together at the end of the day), and daily check-ins to make sure all was well in a partner’s world.
Prioritizing time together was also a gesture that made partners particularly happy to be in the relationship.
6) You don’t feel a need to post your relationship to social media
Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian has said in the past that his relationship success with wife and tennis icon Serena Williams happens in small, everyday gestures.
“It’s funny, because there’s the stuff that obviously goes viral…but really, I think the most romantic stuff I’ve ever done for my wife is the stuff that we would never post on social,” he told Men’s Health in an interview.
“It’s not something you’re going to get a bunch of retweets for, but that’s the thing that I actually really believe matters the most, and that you don’t need a bunch of money for.”
Ohanian says when he and Williams are together, the couple makes sure to put their phone or computer away.
7) You both feel that compromise is a cornerstone to the commitment
Compromising is another important way to respect your partner’s feelings, and it brings the two of you closer together.
Seeing things from your partner’s point of view can also increase your empathy and understanding of each other, says MasterClass instructor Emily Morse.
Compromising also has personal benefits: When couples lead from a spirit of generosity, they can support each other when either partner needs care,”
There’s little doubt that without compromise, couples may find themselves drifting apart. Having a partner who doesn’t meet you halfway can lead to bitterness and the perception that one person is being selfish. “This can also make a partner feel used and undervalued, which is a red flag in relationships.”
Compromise can look like sharing household and caregiving duties, but it can mean making an effort to do something your partner prefers such as a hobby or travel destination. Of course, this works both ways—that’s why it’s called compromise.
Compromise also means being clear about how to conduct the financial aspect of your relationship. This could involve limits on spending to save for retirement, for example.
8) You’re both not afraid to speak up and say what’s on your mind
Both partners should always be able to express whatever they’re thinking without the fear of being judged or bringing out any other negative response.
This means that they share what they think about things, make decisions together, and call each other out when they’re wrong, says Bustle relationship writer, Teresa Newsome. They also tell each other when they need support.
Newsome lists a few key phrases that you shouldn’t ever be afraid to say to your partner:
- You’re wrong
- I don’t like that
- I need you to just shut up and listen
- I’m scared
- I don’t know what I want
Speaking up is vital to a healthy relationship, says LoveToPivot relationship writer Lori Jean Glass.
“You can express yourself in an open and honest way to a partner who’s understanding, caring, open to hearing your truth,” she says. “Sharing your own personal thoughts and feelings with your partner can help you improve and deepen your relationship.”
Being able to be vulnerable and open up with your partner is a profound way to bond with each other and bring the two of you closer together.