How can I tell if my relationship is healthy? Relationships can be a source of much pleasure when they are healthy. They can be a source of much pain and frustration when they are unhealthy. But many relationships fall into a gray area, where they sometimes feel good and sometimes feel bad. If you haven’t had healthy relationship role models, it can be tough to figure out where you stand with yours. Anyone who has ever been in a truly healthy relationship would be able to describe the joy and connection of being loved and respected.
A healthy relationship is based on a foundation of mutual attraction and affection. That’s only the beginning, though. There is also mutual respect that touches all areas of life; work, home, family, recreational activities. What does it mean to respect each other? It means that you both honor one another by acknowledgement of each other’s thoughts and feelings. Respecting your partner, or being respected by your partner means that you are not trying to “one up” each other. You are not trying to change or perfect each other. You show respect by accepting your partner for who he or she is and by appreciating all that they bring to the relationship. This type of respect lays the foundation for each of you to be able to speak up. Feeling that you are heard; that your ideas, thoughts, and beliefs are valued ,is a part of a healthy relationship.
What happens when you disagree with your partner? Does a difference of opinion on what movie to see or what to eat for dinner become a battle? Do differing ideas about parenting style become a way to prove each other wrong? Do you each take turns making every effort to prove the other wrong? In a healthy relationship, couples have learned how to compromise. They use negotiation and compromise to maintain respect for each other. The ability to compromise means that differences can be resolved in a fair and rational way. Each of you maintains your dignity, and you both get something from the compromise.
What about when you try something new? Does your partner encourage you? Whether it’s a new hairstyle, a new outfit, or a new job, is there mutual support? This goes back to the respect issue, again. In a healthy relationship, both partners recognize that each maintains their unique individuality. Part of being an individual is growth and change. When partners respect each other, change is supported and encouraged. If there is a lack of respect at the foundation of your relationship, change may be discouraged or even sabotaged. If change is mutually supported, this is a sign of a healthy relationship.
Do you have privacy within your relationship? In a healthy relationship, privacy is also respected. You should be able to have your own access to communication devices without sharing passwords or explaining telephone calls. You should have your own access to finances, and should not need to explain every financial decision you make. Many couples make a financial agreement, stating if a purchase is over a certain dollar amount, it should be mutually discussed. This type of discussion would respect each person’s point of view and financial concerns, and the end decision would be beneficial to both. An adult relationship between equals must, by definition, include mutual privacy and opportunities for each person to express their individuality. If your partner is attempting to control you by limiting your communications with people outside the relationship or by controlling all of your financial decisions, you are not in a healthy relationship. The aspect of control eats away at the foundation of mutual respect, which will only eventually lead to resentment and discomfort within the relationship.
A healthy relationship also includes healthy intimacy. Intimacy is more than sexuality. To be intimate with your partner may mean different things to different couples. It may mean touching each other when you are driving in the car together. It might be hugging and kissing when you part for the day, and when you reunite. It could mean a heartfelt email or text message, or phone call during the day. It could be cuddling together on the couch in the evening, or enjoying your child’s laughter together. It could be enjoying pets together, or enjoying sports activities together. Once again, the common thread in all of this is mutual affection, and mutual respect. Sex can happen without intimacy, but true intimacy can’t happen without affection and respect. If you ask a couple who are in love with each other about their love life, likely they will say that their love life happens all day long, every day. They understand that intimacy is so much more than sex, and that sex is so much more when intimacy is built into every interaction.
If you’ve read these words and you are thinking that your relationship could use some work, you are not alone. Many couples enter into marriage or their relationship with no clear idea of what a healthy relationship is. Most people just “fall in love” and expect things will stay as rosy as they were with that first flush of romance. Many relationships are essentially healthy, but need a bit of rejuvenation from time to time. This is normal. A few sessions with a good marriage counselor can help, or a marital retreat, or just pausing to reconnect in a way that is meaningful to both of you. But if there is a basic lack of respect in your relationship, it could use some serious work. We all need and deserve to be respected in our relationships. If you would like to talk with me about your relationship, I am available to hear you. If you would like to read more about healthy relationships, or take a relationship quiz, go to www.loveisrespect.org.
Wishing you healthy individuality, healthy relationships, and joy.