One of the most powerful relationship skills you can have is knowing what a healthy relationship looks and feels like. Most people know what hasn’t worked for them, but have a hard time defining and feeling confident picking a healthy relationship. This is especially tricky because we know that healthy relationships are not “perfect” relationships!
Dr. Judith Wallerstein did some fantastic research about the commonalities of healthy relationships. She was the first researcher to ask what healthy relationships actually felt like to the people in them. Her primary finding was that a healthy relationship feels like a unique, co-created world that the two partners share. Every “world” is different, but this qualitative presence exists in all of the healthy relationships she studied.
How do you know if you’re in a relationship that has this quality, even when it’s hard? Or if you’re beginning a relationship that has this potential?
The thoughts you have about your relationship in the privacy of your own mind are a great indicator of your overall relationship quality. Here are 9 thoughts that indicate you are likely in a healthy relationship!
Healthy relationships have few places they can’t go and few things that can’t be spoken about. There is a wide breadth of emotions that can be shared.
If you look to your partner at the end of your good and bad days, this is a good sign.
It means that you inherently feel your partner can understand your experiences. It also means that you trust how your partner will process your experiences and that you have a shared value system in which experiences are processed.
If you look to your partner as a resource to solve problems, it likely means that you inherently feel there is a shared value system through which you organize the world.
A shared value system is one of the biggest indicators for long term success and happiness in a relationship. This is because values organize how we make important decisions. Values also dictate how we solve problems.
The act of solving problems together strengthens your bond. If you implicitly look to your partner to solve problems, this is likely a sign of a healthy relationship.
Feeling seen, heard and understood is a sign of a healthy bond. This experience of being understood underlies all healthy attachment systems.
If you find yourself assuming that your partner is inherently receptive to you, this is a sign that there is trust between you. You likely have a low level of defensiveness around your partner, which leads to lower conflict and higher levels of intimacy and satisfaction.
Note that it is important that you feel your partner is receptive not just to your presence in general, but to your needs and feelings. Healthy relationships have space for both people’s needs and a broad range of feelings. Some relationships can feel receptive until one person expresses a need or a difficult feeling.
One sure way to build real trust is to be open and clear about your needs; a healthy relationship is one that will remain receptive when needs are presented.
A long term relationship has to survive a lot of change and unexpected circumstances in life. When unexpected challenges or changes come up, you and your partner will refer to your core values to decide on your course of action. When there is a shared set of values, each person will independently either arrive at a similar conclusion and/or relate to the decision their partner came to when they are different.
This means that conflict over life paths and choices will be minimized. When there are differences in opinion, they are not the kinds of differences that lead to a massive questioning of the relationship or your partner.
In healthy relationships, conflict is possible and constructive because it is presumed to be superseded by a feeling of trust and good will.
Healthy relationships are not devoid of conflict or hurt feelings. Healthy relationships survive because disappointment or misunderstandings feel smaller than the trust and care that remains intact even amidst the conflict.
Some people are more comfortable being vulnerable, accepting care and comfort, and being less in control than others. Being sick, no matter who you are, puts you in this position! While some people prefer being alone when they’re sick, we all need some assistance and care when we can’t perform at our healthy state.
If your partner is the or one of the people you are comfortable having around when you’re sick, it’s an indicator that you’ve developed trust and safety in the relationship. The kind of safety it takes to be less than your best self is an important predictor of other functions in the relationship.
Your partner should bring out the best in you! Your relationship is functioning well when there is room for your best and most authentic self.
If you feel that you have to be “smaller” to protect your partner in some way, this is a warning sign. Your partner should delight in you shining your brightest light. This requires that your partner has their own self confidence and is not intimidated by you and is not in competition with you.
We all project our “stories” onto our partners. If we haven’t taken the time to reflect on our story, we tend to project blindly onto our partners in ways that make it difficult to experience that person authentically.
This is more problematic if you or your partner have any trauma or unexamined pain in your history. These experiences form our expectations of the world and other people in a way that can be distorted and rigid.
Two people who have taken the time to reflect on the story of their lives will contribute a mental flexibility and ability to see each other clearly.
If you or your partner haven't done this, the good news is that I have an all-online video course to walk you through this and prepare you to be an excellent partner!
You want a “whole” person as your partner! A whole person is someone who is not suppressing or denying huge parts of their reality, their past or their needs.
Once you’ve known someone for some time, you can gain a sense of the degree to which they repress or deny parts of their reality. Someone with addiction problems, for instance, is almost always coping with a part of their reality via avoidance. Someone who can’t talk about periods of their life and/or convey a coherent story about where they came from and how they got to this point in their life is likely in denial.
If you want to ensure that you are not in denial of your reality, my Love Thyself course is here to help! This online video course will walk you through a healthy examination of your past, relationship to substances, and more.
These 9 thoughts speak to four major domains of relationship wellness:
If you resonate with most or all of these thoughts, your relationship is very likely a healthy one!
If you resonate with some but not all of these thoughts, investigate whether there is constructive work that can be done to bring your relationship into full functioning mode. My online course for Marriage and Commitment can help you do that! I cover communication and conflict resolution skills, a healthy approach to emotional life, and what you need to know about your attachment style to succeed in a long term relationship!
I am a psychologist, psychoanalyst, author and teacher who helps clients get to the root of and heal their relational difficulties. Download my free eBook "How to Be an Extraordinary Partner" or enroll in my online course the Marriage and Commitment Course.
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