Good Love: What makes a healthy relationship?
It is human nature to seek connection, to want to be loved, to enjoy the attention that someone we love pays to our wants and needs. It’s a good sign if you are in a relationship and you feel connected, loved, and that you and your partner both intentionally care for one another.
Healthy relationships with family, friends, and partners can help you to experience new things and to feel supported as you live a life that is meaningful to you.
It is also human nature to be hopeful, to dream, and to believe in the good in people. This means that sometimes we won’t see things the same way as others do.
All relationships have disagreements and hard days. These bumps in the road are important and can bring people closer together if they are limited and productive.
So…. if love and connection and caring matter, and so does disagreement, what does a healthy relationship look like?
Let’s look at some important signs that a relationship is healthy:
- You can speak freely. If you and the people you are with feel comfortable and safe talking to one another about anything – nothing is off-limits – and you actively communicate with each other (everyone involved speaks up and actively listens), then you just might have healthy communication.
- Sometimes, you don’t need to speak. A healthy bond relies on all of our senses, including our abilities to just know when something isn’t right. Have you ever been feeling something, and the people around you know what you need without you saying anything at all? That means that they are paying attention to your needs. Being attentive to and aware of one another matters in healthy relationships.
- You are still you, and they are still them. Do you have a particular fondness for a show or music that someone really dislikes? Does that person love that you get joy from your hobbies and choices in entertainment? Feeling free to love the things you love, and not standing in the way of someone’s joy, is a great sign of healthy relationships.
- You do things with – and without – them. Caring for someone and wanting to be near them is good. It’s also important to have family and friends who see you when you’re not with your partner. If you can see other people you care about without feeling like you need permission to see or speak to them, that’s a good thing.
- You encourage and support one another. Everyone has wants, needs, hopes and dreams. We have classes, jobs, careers, side hustles, ideas, and sometimes random things that we like to spend time on. It’s a great sign of healthy bonds when you and the people around you are supportive and encouraging.
- Boundaries are honoured and respected. Quite often, boundaries are linked to values or goals. They might relate to financial matters (like big purchases), or about certain subjects (like who gets to know personal information), or intimate matters. Healthy relationships acknowledge, honour, and respect boundaries.
- There is honesty and trust. Honesty and integrity are integral to trust, and it means that you aren’t keeping secrets from one another, but also that you don’t worry that people are doing things against you, like cheating or breaking boundaries, behind your back. Trust also means feeling safe with them knowing that they won’t hurt you, they want you to succeed, and they encourage you to make your own choices.
- You work as a team. Whether a couple’s partnership, friends, or family, a sign of a strong relationship is when all parties can work together to get something done, even if they don’t agree or have a different goal for themselves.
- You can disagree. Disagreement is central to having your own identity. In a healthy relationship, you are free to say no, or that you disagree with the other person.
- You can resolve conflicts respectfully. Every relationship will endure conflict, and how we resolve those conflicts adds to, or takes away, from the health and strengths of our bonds. If you can talk about differences with honesty and respect, without judgment or fear, you’re in a good place.
- Affection. Most relationships benefit from appropriate and consensual touch. Family and friends might hug, high five, or hold hands. Couples will share intimate moments, as well as other moments of affection. In a healthy relationship, touch never hurts and is always respectful of our boundaries and expectations.
- Kind words. In healthy relationships, the words that are shared, even in disagreements and moments of stress, are respectful. If the people you share time with are using the right words to get the message across without hurting you or others, that’s a good sign that things are in a healthy place.
- You say the magic words. Just as important as saying I love you to someone might be, it is equally as essential for them to hear you say please, thank you, you’re welcome, and I was wrong and I’m sorry.
It is important to know that while these are signs that a relationship is healthy, a relationship can be healthy and still have challenges. Everyone is human and we all make mistakes, and the perfect relationship is not one that is without conflict, but rather one where conflict is addressed respectfully and there are not patterns of conflict.
If you find that you’ve done something that did not contribute to a healthy relationship, talk about it and find out how the other person(s) felt, or respectfully share your feelings if it happened to you.
One-off opportunities to be better can help us to maintain focus on what we value for ourselves and in our relationships, and remind us to be intentional with our words and actions.
Simple disagreements can help us to define boundaries and give us the opportunity to express ourselves as individuals.
A healthy relationship cannot exist, however, in the absence of trust. Nor can a healthy bond find a home alongside hurtful words and hurtful touch.
Hurtful words aren’t just curse words, they can be any word, sentence or topic spoken or shared without concern that you could be hurt or troubled by them. And hurtful touch is not only physical violence, it is any unwanted or uninvited physical contact.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with people – romantic partners, family, and friends – means communicating with them about boundaries, goals, and what you expect from them. It also means being open to hearing and acknowledging their boundaries, goals, and expectations, and then making your own choice about your place in the relationship.
If any of your relationships hurt you in any way, make you feel unsafe, or make you feel like you have less freedom to be you and do as you choose, please talk with someone you trust about it. If you don’t have someone near you, or would prefer not to talk with a family member or friend you can call, please call Kids Help Phone (1- 800-668-6868, for kids, teens, and young adults), 211, or your local distress centre.
If you or someone you know is at risk of imminent harm, call 911.