It’s crucial that our relationships, particularly with our romantic partners, be healthy for everyone involved. Healthy relationships are beneficial in many ways and can actually affect our physical health.
Multiple studies have shown that people who have strong social ties are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.
On the other hand, a lack of social ties has been found to be related to depression, later-life cognitive decline, and even premature death.
One study found that a lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death by 50% – this is a mortality risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
This is why developing and maintaining healthy relationships is so important.
Our relationships affect our mental and physical health and our overall quality of life.
What Does a Healthy Relationship Look Like?
Most of us probably have a good idea of what an unhealthy relationship looks like.
If you’re in a relationship where one or both members are verbally or physically abusive, or if you often resort to name calling in arguments, your relationship probably isn’t healthy.
But what if it’s not so obvious? How do you know if your relationship is healthy?
Maybe you feel that your relationship with your partner is pretty good most of the time, but you’re not sure if it’s as good as it could be.
What makes a relationship healthy?
5 Elements of a Healthy Relationship
When your relationship has open communication, you and your partner can discuss just about anything openly, with honesty and without fear of shame or retaliation.
You don’t hide things from each other, because you don’t feel the need to.
Even if you’re embarrassed by a problem you’re having, you know that talking to your significant other is going to help you, not make things worse.
Other aspects of healthy communication in a relationship include avoiding aggressive speech (using aggressive or violent words or raising your voice) and passive aggressive behavior (sarcastic jokes about things you don’t like about your partner or relationship or using “the silent treatment” as punishment).
When you think of power, you probably think of world leaders, but power doesn’t necessarily mean that.
In social relationships, power is the way we relate to each other. A person with less power in a relationship may find their needs and wants downplayed or completely ignored.
One study found that an imbalance of power in relationships creates more negative behaviors, such as coercion, aggression, and violence – and in these unbalanced relationships, even the person with more power tends to be less happy.
This was particularly true for men in this study.
Having Your Own Lives Outside of the Relationship
Meeting someone, falling in love, and agreeing to a serious commitment to one another is life-changing.
It’s a wonderful feeling to build a new life with that special person, but while a successful relationship should be a merging of two lives, it’s also incredibly important to keep your pre-relationship lives alive and well – and separate.
Carving out time for your friends, your hobbies, or even just alone time is a crucial part of a healthy relationship.
This isn’t easy for most people. Many relationships start out with the members wanting to spend lots of time together and focus on the things they have in common.
But as two people begin to merge their lives together, it’s common for one person (or both) to feel that they are losing their own identity – or to lose themselves completely in the relationship.
Having an honest conversation with your partner about your need for your own identity – and then following through with alone time, hobby time and time with friends – is a crucial aspect of a healthy relationship.
Trust and Honesty
Relationships are built on trust, so honesty is one of the most important parts of a relationship.
If you’re not honest, your partner could eventually stop trusting you. This could be in a big way (i.e. you lie about your other relationships or money), but even smaller lies (what we tend to call “white lies”) can erode trust.
Telling white lies to your partner has been accepted as the norm for decades, but honesty is very important in a relationship.
If your partner finds out that you actually hate their cooking, the way they dress, or their best friend, they will feel hurt that you lied to them.
Trying to spare their feelings will only hurt their feelings later when they find out that you haven’t been honest.
Resolving Conflict Respectfully
Conflict in relationships, particularly romantic relationships, is inevitable, but fighting doesn’t mean we have to be hurtful to one another. Couples can disagree, but still show compassion and respect for each other.
While frequent fighting isn’t healthy, neither is no fighting at all.
In fact, relationships that don’t have any fights at all are typically more prone to failure than others.
In comparison, couples who handle conflict effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who ignore their problems.
If you and your partner handle conflicts in a constructive way, it may actually bring you closer together.
Handling conflict effectively may involve trying to understand the real reasons behind the argument, consciously choosing a time to work on the issue together, truly listening, and asking your partner for clarification.
One of the most important ways you can argue effectively is by being mindful of how you express yourself.
By making requests instead of complaints (“I’m feeling really stressed out about the dirty clothes on the floor. It would really help me out if you would throw your dirty clothes in the hamper” instead of “You always throw your dirty clothes on the floor!”), you can open up honest and thoughtful dialogue with your partner about your concerns.
When you have trust, honesty, compassion, open communication, a balance of power, and your own lives, you’re able to cultivate emotional intimacy in your relationship.
Emotional Intimacy means that you’re able to tell each other just about anything, talk openly about your relationship and tell your partner about the things that are important to you.
It means that in general you can share and understand one another’s feelings.
Most of all, emotional Intimacy creates a deep sense of security within your relationship, allowing you to be wholly yourself, without feeling as if you’re putting the relationship itself at risk by doing so.
Gain the Relationship You Desire
If you don’t feel that your relationship has enough of these five elements, or that you and your partner lack emotional intimacy, it can be upsetting.
But all relationships require work, and sometimes we need a little help.
At This LoveWorks, we provide the most up-to-date and effective techniques to help you and your partner recognize and address areas of weakness in your relationship, improve communication, and navigate a time of crisis – together.
We want to help you and your partner develop a deeper connection, recognize and fight dysfunction, and heal your relationship.