There’s more to a great union than sexual attraction and common interests. Here’s how to know if your partnership is healthy.
You and your partner love trying new restaurants together, going on long bike rides, and traveling, but when it comes to being happy and healthy in a relationship, there are other things to consider besides having common interests.
What exactly makes a relationship healthy? “A great relationship is a safe place for both people to love, honor, and respect one another,” says Jennifer Howell, a leadership and relationship coach in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. You can communicate your wants, needs, and boundaries, as well as listen to the other person.
No matter how you identify, a healthy relationship is important to cultivate because the opposite — a toxic relationship — takes a toll on your quality of life by heightening depression and anxiety, impacting sleep, causing you to take up unhealthy habits, and even impacting heart health, says Mary Jo Rapini, licensed intimacy and sex psychotherapist in Houston.
Being in a high-quality romantic relationship is associated with greater well-being, according to a study published August 2019 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Being single was far better for someone’s well-being than being in a less happy partnership, the study found.
What’s more, many couples in unhealthy relationships don’t know that they are, especially if they grew up in a household where it was the norm, says Rapini. So it’s all the more important to be able to identify where yours stands.
Here are nine signs you and your mate are a good match:
1. You’re Not Afraid to Speak Up
It’s easy to know when your partner does something you don’t like — maybe they don’t call you for two days or don’t help out around the house when you live together. But it’s not always easy to speak up and tell your significant other how you’re feeling. “This takes a lot of strength, self-confidence, and courage, because you have to come from a vulnerable place,” says Howell. In a healthy relationship, you’ll feel secure enough to be open with your partner.
2. Trust Is at the Core of the Relationship
Trust is foundational in all relationships, but with social media and cellphones, it can become all too easy to snoop. But in a healthy relationship, you don’t need to do that. In part, that’s because your partner shows you they’re trustworthy. “They’re reliable and available. When they say they’ll be there, they’ll be there,” says Rapini. They also show you they trust you by giving you the freedom and space you need without checking up on you constantly — and that includes checking your phone, she says.
3. You Know Each Other’s Love Language
Many couples swear by the book The 5 Love Languages for a reason: In it, you discover your partner’s “love language” — the way they prefer to give and receive love (through words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch). In a healthy relationship, you’ve taken the time to learn each other’s “love language” so you can express your love in a way that works for you both, says Howell.
4. You Agree to Disagree on Certain Issues
Every couple fights. But contrary to what you might think, you don’t need to fix every issue. In fact, it’s okay to have a handful of topics that you two will never agree on. Sometimes, “it’s totally fine to agree to disagree. I think that’s healthy fighting,” explains Rapini. “In healthy relationships, there are at least five issues that are ‘no talkers.’ They’re the issues that you both differ in opinion and perspective on, and that’s okay.”
5. You Encourage Each Other to Go After Your Goals
“Many of us have a dream or vision for our life, and especially as we age, we want to maintain those visions,” says Howell. According to Howell, it’s okay if your dreams don’t align with one another as long as you “honor and encourage each other to achieve your goals.”
6. You and Your Partner Hold Separate Interests
“Couples who have the greatest love affairs are the ones who were able to maintain their interests, but don’t put guilt on their partner for not sharing it with them,” she says. Meaning, both of you encourage the other to explore what they love on their own. Howell agrees, adding that while it’s easy to adopt your partner’s habits and interests, over time becoming over-reliant on each other can breed resentment. “Developing and investing in yourself builds self-confidence, self-love, and joy,” she says.
7. You’re Comfortable in Your Own Skin
When you’re in a relationship, it’s crucial to know your strengths and weaknesses, says Howell. Maybe you’re confident around your friends but self-conscious at work. Or you know that little things, like your partner forgetting to take out the trash, can set you off. Whatever your strengths and weaknesses are, being aware of them can help you reach a point of loving and accepting yourself, which in turn can help you love and accept your partner.
8. Boundaries Are Honored and Respected
A healthy relationship means you’re both on the same team. “In a healthy relationship, both parties discuss and agree upon important subjects that are meaningful to one another,” says Howell. She gives the example of budgeting for something big, like a vacation. An unsupportive partner in an unhealthy relationship doesn’t honor that goal, but they may sabotage it by trying to get you to splurge on something unnecessary. If you can talk it out with your partner and they acknowledge and understand your boundaries, that’s a good sign, notes Howell. “However, if your partner repeatedly ignores what you value, including your boundaries, that’s concerning,” she says.
9. You Feel Happy and Supported
Once the initial elation of a new relationship wears off, check in with yourself: Do you feel happy and supported by your partner? How are your mood and self-esteem? If you feel any strain or lack of support, talk to your significant other — it’s the healthy thing to do.
Feeling unhappy in a relationship can lead to health problems down the road. According to a study published in July 2015 in the Journal of Affective Disorders, which looked at nearly 5,000 adults over age 50 who were partnered up, having regular negative interactions in a relationship increases the likelihood of suffering from depression and anxiety, and is even linked to suicidal thoughts, likely because dysfunction drives up day-to-day stress. On the other hand, strong partnerships protect people when they’re in the midst of a crisis — exactly the time they need someone on their side.