You may have been in several casual and serious relationships in your life, but have you ever stopped to consider what exactly a healthy relationship is? The trouble is, many of us learn what relationships are meant to look like from watching the adults we spent most of our time with as children, i.e., our parents. And unfortunately, not all of our parents are in healthy relationships or even understand what a healthy relationship looks like themselves.
A healthy relationship doesn’t mean perfect because we all have flaws and bad days. But your relationship should be healthy 90% of the time and bring out the best in you.
Unhealthy relationship characteristics
- Hiding who you truly are
- Walking on eggshells around them
- Controlling behavior, money, transportation, or clothing choices
- Being critical about core parts of who someone is (e.g., their career, their appearance)
- Feeling pressure to change who you are
- Being afraid to voice your opinion
- Feeling obliged to spend time together
- Not feeling listened to or heard
- Feeling disrespected
- When your partner invalidates your feelings
- Being codependent on each other
- Not being able to communicate effectively
- Neglecting your own needs for your partner
Healthy relationship characteristics
You know you’re in a healthy relationship when you:
- Have respect for each other
- Set boundaries
- Communicate openly and honestly
- Fight fairly
- Feel comfortable with each other
- Trust each other
- Are equals in the relationship
- Take responsibility and accountability for yourselves
- Show affection
- Maintain your independence
- Are both committed to making the relationship work
10 Signs of a healthy relationship
1. You have respect
One of the most important indicators of a healthy relationship is that you both respect each other, even when you disagree. That means you listen and empathize with each other, cater to your partner’s needs (to a certain extent), practice understanding and forgiveness, take an interest in each other’s interests, support and encourage your partner’s goals and dreams, create space for them in your life, and do everything you can to build them up.
2. You have boundaries
You will have boundaries as individuals and boundaries you create as a couple. Think of a boundary like drawing an imaginary line in the sand, and you make it clear to your partner that they are not to cross this line. On one side of the line are all the things you are okay with, and on the other side are all the things that make you uncomfortable. It’s important to set boundaries so that we tell our partner early on what is and isn’t okay. It doesn’t matter if his needs conflict with yours – you’re allowed to put your needs first, and you don’t need to cater to all of his needs, especially if they make you uncomfortable.
If you communicate a boundary and your partner crosses it, they are disrespecting your boundaries, which means they are disrespecting you.
So think about what your boundaries are. They can be physical, emotional, sexual, digital, material, and spiritual. The next step is to communicate your boundaries to your partner. There will likely be moments during the dating phase when it feels natural to express a boundary. For example, let’s say you’ve been seeing a man for three months, and he surprises you with a romantic weekend away. You’re having a great time, and feelings are getting stronger, but he then makes a move in the bedroom, and you’re just not ready to sleep with him yet. This is one of your boundaries, and this is the perfect time to communicate it if you haven’t already.
3. You have open and honest communication
When you first meet a guy and get to know him, it would be weird to give him your entire life story. Plus, we all love a bit of mystery, so you want to be like an onion and reveal another layer of yourself every time you see someone. Pacing like this is important because it gives you time to build trust and see if you’re compatible in the long run.
But over time, to build that all-important emotional connection, you have to get comfortable being vulnerable as you share your hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities. This is all part of falling in love. When you’re open and honest about your feelings, needs, and boundaries, it prevents misunderstandings and feelings from getting hurt. In a relationship, there will be times you need to share something that the other person may not like, and it’s equally important to work on actively listening when your partner is the one talking.
As a general rule, I recommend being radically candid with each other. That means you don’t even tell little white lies like, “sure, that shirt looks great on you,” when it’s the ugliest shirt you’ve ever seen, but you don’t want to hurt his feelings. But remember, there is a way to tell the truth while also being kind so that you avoid hurting each other. Like, “I don’t think that shirt does you justice, but how about that blue one? I love you in that.”
4. You fight fair
Fights are inevitable in a long-term relationship. The only way to avoid them is to agree with everything your partner says, and if you do that, you’re not being yourself = an unhealthy characteristic of a relationship.
What’s most important when you disagree is to get back to a state of calm where you can both discuss it, take turns to listen, and come up with a compromise. A sign of a healthy relationship is when you still treat each other with kindness when you bump heads. If things get too heated, go for a walk, take some deep breaths and come back to it when the temperature has gone down.
5. You trust each other
Research shows that our ability to trust people in relationships stems from the attachment style we developed as children. If we experience secure, stable, trusting relationships, then we’re more likely to be able to trust new partners. On the flip side, if we experience unstable relationships as a child, then we’re likely to have trust issues. So if trust issues are a recurring pattern for you in relationships, take some time to look at the model relationships you saw as a child. Working with a therapist can help you become aware of and heal unhealthy attachment styles.
Even if you find it easy to trust, it takes time to build. It’s based on consistently showing up for one another, being reliable, respecting boundaries, being honest and communicating how you feel, and not just talking the talk but walking the walk.
But one thing is for sure, if you don’t trust each other, you aren’t in a healthy relationship, and it won’t be long before everything crumbles.
6. You are equals
Another key sign of a healthy relationship is if you are both equals and treat one another like equals. That means you make decisions together, both have access to the resources you need, and both people’s needs and interests are supported and valued.
Naturally, there will be times when one of you is putting more into the relationship than the other because we all go through ebbs and flows like this. For example, one of you unexpectedly loses your job or is working extra hard taking care of a newborn baby. But generally, it should feel like you are equals.
7. You take responsibility & accountability
If someone cannot take responsibility for their actions, admit when they’re wrong, and apologize, then there is no way they will be able to form a healthy relationship. Continually placing blame on others and not calling yourself out on anything is a clear sign that someone is not holding themselves accountable.
Both people need to own their words and actions and hold their hands up when they make a mistake. Even if you had no intention of hurting your partner with your words or actions, if they are hurt, it’s still important to take ownership of that. Apologies need to be genuine, coupled with a conscious effort to correct that mistake in the future and do better.
8. You’re affectionate
Research has shown that passion at the start of a new relationship declines over time, but our need for affection, comfort, and tenderness does not. This suggests that passion eventually transforms into compassionate love. Healthy relationships require deep trust, intimacy, affection, and commitment.
There’s no right amount of affection because we all have different needs. What’s important is that both people are happy with the amount of affection they receive. And that affection should be a genuine appreciation and love for each other, which can be expressed in different ways. Knowing each other’s love languages can help you show love and affection in ways that mean the most to your partner.
9. You’re both independent
Another sign you’re in a healthy relationship is that you maintain your own independent lives outside of each other. You nurture your friendships, hobbies, passions, and career path and enjoy time alone.
As I always say, no amazing man will want a life with you unless you have an amazing life without him! Likewise, I’m sure you’re ten times more attracted to a man when he has exciting things in his life that are external to dating you.
Maintaining this independence helps you grow as individuals and ensures you don’t rely too heavily on your relationship. And let’s be honest, if you spend all your time in each other’s pockets, it’s not long before you legitimately run out of things to say to each other.
10. You’re both committed to the relationship.
The final sign you’re in a healthy relationship is if you both feel that the other person is fully committed to the relationship and is putting in the time and effort so that it thrives. A 2020 review of relationship studies found that if both people in a relationship believe their partner is in it for the long haul, their relationship is more likely to be healthy.
A relationship really does take two. Think of it like two people on a paddle boat trying to get from one island to the next. They both have an oar in hand. The boat moves forward seamlessly when they’re rowing at the same pace. But if one person drags ass or completely stops rowing? The boat will go majorly off course, or worse, in a circle!
If you need clarification on whether you’re in a healthy relationship, go through the points on this list one by one and ask yourself if it rings true for you. Be honest. Don’t sugarcoat the truth.
If you discover you are in an unhealthy relationship, there’s a strong chance it’s because this feels comfortable and familiar to you because the first relationships you saw as a child were unhealthy ones. Don’t blame yourself; remember that you can end this toxic cycle and rebuild your self-worth. Begin with Little Love Step #1, and don’t settle for a relationship that doesn’t make you feel good.