Last month (in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month) I decided to develop an Intimate Partner Violence Series that is intended to equip individuals with the information necessary to 1) determine if they are in an abusive relationship, 2) develop a safety plan for while they are in the relationship, 3) seek support and resources to help them get out of the relationship and finally 4) identify signs of healthy relationships. This series is intended to be educational in nature and is not a substitute for seeking professional help. Please seek the help of a therapist in your area. Today’s post is Part Four and the final installment of this series. If this is a topic that has special relevance for you, please follow the above links for previous articles.
If we didn't receive good (or any!) modeling from our parents about how to be in a healthy, loving intimate relationship, it can be hard to know if we're "doing it right." When I got into my first serious relationship in college, I honestly didn't know what a healthy relationship looked like, and unfortunately wound up in an abusive relationship for almost 5 years with someone who at the time I thought was a "perfect boyfriend" and who I assumed I'd spend my life with. It wasn't until having friends and family intervene that I became awake to the fact that I was in a very unhealthy relationship and needed to leave.
Not once did I receive education in signs of intimate partner abuse or the cycle of violence as an undergraduate in psychology nor as a graduate student in counseling. Had I been aware, I might've been able to notice the warning signs and leave sooner. I hope you, the reader, keep yourself informed of traits of healthy and unhealthy relationships so you can avoid the pain of abuse and have a satisfying, lifelong relationship with someone you love. Please read on for my round-up of characteristics of healthy relationships:
1 | Communication
One thing that I often tell psychotherapy clients is that your partner is not a mind-reader! Just because you wish your partner new what you needed and could meet your needs all the time doesn’t mean that they can. In a relationship, we need to take responsibility for our obligation to keep our partner informed of what we’re thinking, feeling, needing and expecting so that we don’t find ourselves constantly resentful and disappointed. If you and your partner are in sync with your communication, this is a strong indicator that your relationship is headed in the right direction.
2 | Vulnerability
This is a tough one for people because making ourselves vulnerable can be an intensely uncomfortable and difficult task, and can be even harder for those who’ve experienced much betrayal, deception or trauma in past relationships. However, as risky as it can feel, making ourselves vulnerable to our partner allows us to be fully seen and loved by our partner and help us resolve conflicts with love instead of anger. If you and your partner allow yourselves to be vulnerable with one another, then you will likely find it easier to connect on a deeper level and move through challenges with ease.
3 | Honesty
Transparency in a relationship allows it to grow and thrive. Knowing that your partner is in the loop about your actions will allow you to be more present in your interactions with them and prevent guilt and shame from creeping in. If you and your partner find it easy to admit transgressions to one another and share information – even if it might hurt the other – then you’re likely in a relationship with a high level of honesty and integrity.
4 | Trust
What I often tell my psychotherapy clients is that trust is the foundation of a relationship – without it, there’s not much of a relationship at all – it’s more like two people living parallel lives, loosely connected to one another. In a relationship where the trust is well-established and strong, the couple’s bond can withstand ambiguity and fear, because their trust in one another serves as the bedrock of the relationship – unshakeable, despite challenging external factors.
5 | Boundaries
As much as we want to experience closeness with our partner, in order to have a thriving relationship, we need to balance that out with maintaining healthy personal boundaries. Relationship boundaries are limits that we set within the relationship – for example, people can have boundaries around their time, their personal space, their finances, how they expect to be treated by their partner among many other areas. It’s important to establish clear boundaries and uphold them, in order to prevent feeling taken advantage of by our partner.
6 | Fun
One of the many benefits of being in a relationship is the ability to share the enjoyment of life with your partner. We’re wired for connection, so it makes sense that we would be naturally inclined to seek a life partner with whom to share fun times with. If you and your mate are cracking each other up, having a blast on dates, and fully engaging in the moment, chances are your relationship is healthy and thriving.
7 | Intimacy
A hallmark of healthy relationships is the intimacy shared between the partners. Physical intimacy is a pivotal aspect of a healthy relationship for many couples, but is not always necessary. For partners in long-distance relationships, or partners who choose to abstain sexually, emotional intimacy can be enough to satisfy both partners. Intimacy, in this sense, indicates sharing deeply with that person and letting them in on parts of you that you don’t share with just anyone.
8 | Loyalty
Of course many couples choose to have polyamorous relationships, but in a monogamous relationship there is an expectation of physical and emotional loyalty to one another. In a healthy relationship (whether monogamous or polyamorous,) both partners honor the agreements and expectations set forth at the beginning of the relationship about what is acceptable (and unacceptable) behavior. Also, remember that emotional affairs can cause as much (if not more) damage than physical affairs.
9 | Equity
Equity and equality are two different, yet similar, ideas. Saying that a relationship should have equality would be unrealistic, because each partner has different strengths, abilities and resources to contribute to the relationship that will never be equal – that would simply be impossible to achieve! But to say that a relationship is equitable means that both partners are contributing what they can and treating one another with dignity and respect.
10 | Reliability
In order to feel secure in your relationship, you need to know that you can count on your partner – whether it be expecting them to show up for a date when they say they will, or being able to drop everything and come help you in a crisis situation. Without dependability, we’ll feel like we’re on our own within the relationship. Knowing that our partner is available to us makes us feel closer to them and safer in general because we know we have support when we need it.
I hope you found today’s post informative. Although there are many other qualities of healthy relationships that I could identify, theses are the ten that really stood out to me when I sat down to write this post. Please leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask.
If you feel that you are in imminent danger, please seek help immediately, by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or by calling 911. If you are not in immediate danger, but would like to find someone to talk to, you can find a therapist at PsychologyToday.com or if you are in the Los Angeles area, feel free to contact me for therapy. This is the final article in this series. Be safe and be well.
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.