I think the most frequent question clients seek an answer to is 'what does a healthy romantic relationship look like?' This question has a unique answer for any individual and an even more specific answer for any couple. There are some basic ways of thinking about what creates a healthy relationship that can be used as a framework for setting up the details of how the relationship ends up developing in order to lead to success.
Healthy relationships, whether romantic or otherwise, follow certain ground rules that allow each person involved to be happy without compromising the happiness of the other person. This includes parent-child dyads, siblings, professional relationships, your relationship with your neighbors, etc. You get the idea. Basically anyone with whom you are interacting that your behavior and mood effects.
Imagine if everyone lived by this general framework. We would have a web of interconnected and happy people all around the world. Each person can do their little part and hope that the effects trickle out and have a far reach. As any one person is more happy, other people in their life can be more happy.
If for some reason you are not happy or you are making someone unhappy, it is your responsibility to either work through the difficulties to the extent that you are not made to feel more unhappy than you were when you started, or you may want to consider distancing yourself from that person so that you are not contributing to the perpetuation of unhappiness for either of you.
You can obviously choose to stay in the unhappiness if there is no alternative, but in that case, I would suggest consciously seeking out and establishing times and places of serenity for yourself so that you can maintain your identity and strength throughout the time you that have to maintain that particular relationship.
So let's get to it. What are we aiming for? How can we be happy without taking away from the happiness of someone else? Believe it or not, it's not selfish, it's actually quite realistic.
One of the most important things to understand is that every type of relationship including romantic ones is a) a series of disconnects followed hopefully by b) repair then c) reconnection.
To speak specifically about romantic relationships, there are a) misunderstandings, arguments, disagreements, resentments, lack of affection, anger, inconsiderations, etc. followed by b) effective communication, in depth conversation, rekindling of positive emotion, physical touch, repetitive discussions, etc. until c) resolution is reached and both people feel loving and loved again.
The parts that are specific to each couple are how the pattern of disconnect, repair, and reconnection happens. Knowing how to engage with your partner effectively may take some counseling or educating yourself through books or advice from people in healthy relationships, but it is well worth doing.
Either way, if you haven't picked up the skills of repairing and reconnecting, which many people haven't, it makes life a lot easier and happier to put some effort into this venture. Once you learn the skills and have the tools, you will be able to use them over your lifetime.
I can't think of a skill that is more important in life than being able to productively engage with other people so that you and the other person are thoroughly fulfilled. Feeling this type of satisfaction allows people to live content and at their maximum potential encompassing all aspects of their life.
A healthy relationship consists of:
- Trust by both people that is validated through virtuous behaviors while with the person and when they are not around.
- The other partner is taken into consideration when decisions are made. Partners regularly consult each other in all aspects of life, including the parts of their lives that do not include the other person.
- Allowing yourself and your partner to develop a strong core self throughout your time together. This includes having a healthy balance of separate and conjoint interests, friends, and life goals. By encouraging each other's self-growth, both partners can become happy as individuals while finding fulfillment within the relationship.
- Problem solving happens together. When one person brings up a problem, the other person tolerates their own feelings around it and works through not just how they feel but also how their partner is feeling until both people feel a sense of resolution. Problems are not avoided, disregarded, or invalidated.
- There is a fluid healthy concern for the partner while not feeling responsible for their mood or actions. Everyone is responsible for their own emotional states. All any partner can do is be supportive and caring.
- Kindness at all times goes without saying. This is mandatory for successful relationships.
- Sex is talked about. How much or how little, when, and in what ways sex happens is discussed and understood by both partners. There is respect for the other person's physical body and emotional state when sex is happening.
- There is a high level of feeling comfortable with each other that is not taken for granted or seen as a weakness. Just because a person is choosing to be there does not imply that that person will always be there. It is a choice to be with someone and the relationship needs to be nurtured in order for it to continue growing. If it is not nurtured, just like any plant or your own emotional or physical well-being, growth will become stunted or stop altogether.
- Conversation is based upon listening to understand, not listening to respond. Hearing and being present when your partner is speaking or telling you something through body language allows your connection to grow stronger.
Love is just a word until you and your partner create a meaning for it. Create your special meaning consciously and kindly. Love is far from what Hollywood makes it out to be. The meaning of love you create will be different than what you have seen in other relationships. In the same way that it's important to be yourself an individual, it's important to create a unique partnership that is well-suited to what you and your partner are looking for instead of what is expected of you or what the media sells it to be.
If you are feeling more uncomfortable than you would like, that is when you know that it is time for a change. Our minds are resilient, they can withstand change and brief uprooting until a sense of comfort and happiness is established. It is worth trying for because you can't have what you want unless you try to get it.
There are many details that go into making a relationship healthy so that both people can be happy. Having the information of what makes a healthy relationship is the starting point of having one. The next step is making it happen.