Healthy relationships are best described as interdependent. Interdependence means you rely on each other for mutual support but still maintain your identity as a unique individual. In other words, your relationship is balanced. You know you have their approval and love, but your self-esteem doesn’t depend on them. Individuals have different types of relationships with different people. Be it romantic, as friends, the relationships you have with you family members or professional relationships. However, any of this relationships can become potentially unhealthy and have a negative impact upon your life.
If you have or want a romantic relationship, you probably want a healthy one. But what’s a healthy relationship, exactly?
Healthy relationships don’t look the same for everyone since people have different needs. Your specific needs around communication, sex, affection, space, shared hobbies or values, and so on may change throughout life. Therefore as we get older, our relationships and our needs will differ.
Relationships that don’t align with more traditional definitions of a relationship can still be healthy. For example, people who practice polyamory or ethical nonmonogamy might define a healthy relationship somewhat differently than people who practice monogamy.
Open communication is key to a healthy relationship across all boards. You should be able to typically talk about what is going on in your life be it success, failures and everything in between. You should feel comfortable talking about any issues that may come up from things that happen in everyday life, to more serious issues like mental health, financial concerns and loss. Even if your partner has a differing opinion to yours, they should listen without judgment and then share their perspective.
Communication goes both ways. It’s important you also feel that they’ll voice their own concerns or thoughts as they come up.
People in nonmonogamous relationships may place even more value on emotional check-ins and frequent communication about what’s happening with other partners.
A healthy relationship means being able to trust your partner completely. This is also why communication is key, so there is no reason to distrust your partner and that you can be open with past trauma around relationships and set boundaries. Trust involves honesty and integrity so you don’t keep secrets from each other. When you’re apart, you don’t worry about them pursuing other people.
But trust goes beyond believing they won’t cheat or lie to you. It also means you feel safe and comfortable with them and know they won’t hurt you physically or emotionally. You know they have your best interests in mind but also respect you enough to encourage you to make your own choices.
A sense of yourself as a separate person
Although you’re there for each other, you don’t depend on each other to get all of your needs met. You still have friends and connections outside the relationship and spend time pursuing your own interests and hobbies.
One key characteristic of healthy, long-term love is curiosity. This means you’re interested in their thoughts, goals, and daily life. You want to watch them grow into their best self. You’re not fixated on who they used to be or who you think they should be.
Most people in healthy relationships prioritise spending time together, though the amount of time you spend together can vary based on personal needs, work and other commitments, living arrangements, and so on. But you also recognise the need for personal space and time on your own. Maybe you spend this time relaxing solo, pursuing a hobby, or seeing friends or family. Whatever you do, you don’t need to spend every moment together or believe your relationship suffers when you spend some time apart.
Playfulness or light-heartedness
It’s important to make time for fun and spontaneity when the mood is right. If you can joke and laugh together, that’s a good sign. Sometimes life challenges or distress might affect one or both of you. This can temporarily change the tone of your relationship and make it hard to relate to each other in your usual ways. But being able to share lighter moments that help relieve tension, even briefly, strengthens your relationship even in tough times.
Intimacy often refers to sex, but not always. Not everyone enjoys or wants sex and many people are Asexual. Your relationship can still be healthy without it — as long as you’re both on the same page about getting your needs met and both consent.
If neither of you have interest in sex, physical intimacy might involve kissing, hugging, cuddling, and sleeping together. Whatever type of intimacy you share, physically connecting and bonding is important.
If you both enjoy sex, your physical relationship is most likely healthy when you:
- feel comfortable initiating and talking about sex
- can positively handle rejection
- can discuss desires
- feel safe expressing your interest in more or less sex
Healthy intimacy also involves respecting sexual boundaries. This includes:
- not pressuring partners about sex or specific sex acts when they say no
- sharing information about other partners
- discussing sexual risk factors, e.g. STI’s
Teamwork (makes the dream work!)
A strong relationship can be considered a team. You work together and support each other, even when you don’t see eye to eye on something or have goals that aren’t exactly the same. In short, you have each other’s back. You know you can turn to them when you’re struggling. And you’re always ready to offer support when they need you.
Even in a healthy relationship, you’ll have occasional disagreements and feel frustrated or angry with each other from time to time. That’s completely normal. It doesn’t mean your relationship is unhealthy. What matters is how you address conflict. If you can talk about your differences politely, honestly, and with respect, you’re on the right track.