What Makes a Healthy Relationship?
There are many different possible ways to define what makes a healthy relationship. People in relationships or seeking relationships have different ideas on how to define healthy versus unhealthy.
The foundation of a healthy relationship should be based on core characteristics that align with what both individuals feel are important and healthy. Lack of awareness and agreement on what those characteristics are can lead to confusion, dissatisfaction, and toxicity.
The following are some of the fundamental characteristics of a foundation for a healthy relationship that can help both individuals grow emotionally and develop an awareness of themselves and each other.
In even the healthiest relationships, life can get complicated and conflicts can arise. Everyone goes through hard times, whether it’s related to mental health challenges, drug or alcohol addiction, a career transition, or significant loss. This can cause some people to shut down and emotionally withdraw from their partner.
It is impossible for two people to know what the other is thinking at all times. When feelings and thoughts are not communicated verbally, this can lead to unfair assumptions, misunderstandings, and resentments.
The practice of using healthy communication skills is the most effective way to resolve conflicts and reciprocate empathy and respect for the other person’s emotions, feelings, and thoughts. When people feel heard, seen, and understood by someone they love and respect, it can help break down barriers and strengthen the emotional connection.
Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries for yourself and your partner is crucial for a healthy relationship. Boundaries are essential for setting clear expectations and showing someone how you want to be treated, and vice versa.
Some examples of healthy boundaries in a relationship include:
- having autonomy
- being independent
- respecting personal space
- avoiding codependency
- asking for consent
- respecting opinions
- communicating honestly
Just like everything else in a relationship, respect only works in a relationship when it is mutual and reciprocal. People need to respect themselves as much as they respect the other person, and they need to express themselves in a respectful way.
Without respect, people can lose their self-esteem and sense of value. People naturally treat each other well when they feel secure about themselves and can demonstrate their confidence and value to their partner. Respect can be shown in a number of ways, not just verbally but also emotionally and physically.
Ways of showing respect include:
- listening to each other
- validating one another’s feelings
- being willing to compromise
- supporting one another
- defending one another’s honor
- communicating with empathy
- expressing oneself honestly yet kindly
Respect ties in with the other characteristics of a healthy relationship, especially trust and boundaries. Boundaries are essential for building trust, and boundaries can’t be built or sustained without respect.
Without trust, it is impossible for a relationship to mature and flourish. Trust is the antidote to jealousy and suspicion, which are toxic trust issues that can cause a relationship to fall apart. Genuine trust takes time to cultivate, but the outcome is worth the time invested in gaining someone’s trust and being able to trust them.
Trust issues can be related to mental health disorders or issues such as:
- attachment disorder
- fear of abandonment
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- past traumatic relationships
When distrust stems from deeper psychological and emotional issues in one or both partners, a good course of action is to seek clinical therapy to address underlying traumas and problems that are challenging and harmful to a relationship.
There are other types of intimacy besides physical and sexual. While those are certainly important elements of a romantic relationship, there are also emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and experiential ways of expressing intimacy. Having intimacy on all these levels helps people to develop deeper self-awareness and awareness of each other.
The hormone oxytocin is a neurochemical that is released during intimate experiences. Oxytocin plays a part in social and cognitive processes involving intimacy and is considered highly beneficial to mental and emotional health.
A relationship between two individuals entails emotional connection and intimacy without causing harm to the mental health of either one. The criteria of a healthy relationship can depend on what two people are looking for in another person, and expecting from each other.
Healthy relationships take work and time to develop. The fundamentals of trust, intimacy, honesty, communication, and boundaries evolve as the relationship grows and becomes stronger.
People also change over time, so a healthy relationship needs to be flexible and adaptive to how people grow and mature in different phases of their lives. When two people respect themselves and each other as independent and unique individuals, they have the potential to form a loving and supportive bond that gets stronger as it grows between them.