Working in the therapeutic sector with many different people in many types of relationships – including partners, parents/children and friends – it has become apparent that there are a few key factors which are generally present when the relationship is healthy.
Throughout the following ten hallmarks, a common theme is open and clear communication. We may feel or think a certain way, but if we don’t express it, how the hell is anyone meant to know? Real communication is without a doubt integral to a healthy relationship, so if it’s not one of our strong points, then we should keep practicing it until it is.
Honesty and Trust
Being honest with our loved one doesn’t necessarily mean that each person knows everything about each other. We don’t share every dream we have, what we did exactly from the start to finish of each day, how many times we went to the toilet, what attention we got from the opposite sex etc., but it does mean that each person genuinely knows who each other is and how they feel.
For example, if there are things that are concerning us then we should be transparent about it without trying to burden the other person with negative vibes or project it onto them in a harmful way. It is always important to be clear about how we feel, what we are thinking about and what is happening in our lives.
It is also paramount to have the security of trust. There’s not a huge amount of people in our lives that we do fully trust, so with the people we do, it always needs to be reinforced. In this light, however, our kids are not always going to be trustworthy and we have to accept that. They have to develop their own understanding of what trust means and how to develop healthy relationships.
Problems of honesty and trust arise when we force our kids to behave in a certain way that is not likely to be successful. Children are naturally rebellious, so if we give them something to rebel against, they will. An example of when trust and respect between a parent and child has highly evolved is when the child feels comfortable enough to go to their parents and talk about the mistakes they’ve made without feeling they are going to be harshly judged or get into serious trouble. It is the parent’s job to ensure that this occurs, as they’re the adult.
In terms of the level of trust between partners, it becomes obvious in certain circumstances. Just say we’re at a social gathering and we have no idea where our partner is. We could think “Where are they, are they cheating on us or acting disrespectfully?” If so, that’s a indicator of either an unhealthy relationship or an unhealthy view of it. But if we think “I don’t know where they are but I trust them”, then it has obviously been cemented. In this case there might also be little trace of jealousy the curse which is also a strong gauge of a healthy relationship.
The reality is, there is absolutely no substitute for trust, it is simply unparalleled by anything else and is highly influential in making or breaking relationships.
Ultimately, healthy unions understand the true needs and wants of each party. It’s an honest and trustworthy engagement. It is also important to be clear about what may be bugging us and what’s bloody awesome. If we don’t know what we’re doing right, or wrong, then it makes it difficult to grow and expand in a way that will satisfy both parties.
This is why confusion and distrust can potentially lead to a communication and relationship breakdown.
Acceptance and Responsibility
A healthy relationship always accepts it for what it is in each moment. We need to embrace our loved ones for how they feel and who they are. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we just blindly overlook the ways in which they need to grow, but it is important to practice a type of fair judgement which accepts and embraces the other person without any strict agenda of forcing them to change.
When we’re ready to develop certain elements of ourselves, it will happen, naturally.
We also need to take responsibility for ourselves. If each party treated each other equally and realized that we all made mistakes – or that we both have ways in which we need to develop – then certain behaviors or actions that we are sometimes guilty of would be easier to talk about and move past in a healthy manner.
For example, we were all kids once, so if our children are behaving in ways that doesn’t suit our way of thinking, or don’t fit into our moral code, then accepting and understanding that they are in a different place with a different mindset ensures open communication around the issue in a way which embraces their view and actually results in productive outcomes.
We didn’t always think and feel the way we do now, so it’s hypocritical to expect our kids to have worked it out whilst they’re still maturing.
In addition, if we’ve acted hypocritically or made our own mistakes, we need to admit it in order to create the necessary balance. As soon as one party behaves in a way that is superior to the other, the walls of defence and protection are guarded.
Overall, it is important to think of the challenging behaviours of ourselves and our loved ones as learning curves – even if they aren’t liked or condoned – because it opens a dialogue where each party doesn’t feel threatened. If this occurs, our shortcomings can be embraced in a way that encourages us to grow.
Humour and a Positive Mindset
There is without a doubt a need to find humour in our relationships. Laughing at the funny, the mundane, the taboo, and even the serious are excellent ways to find peace in the toughest situations. If we do, we won’t take the complexities and challenges of relationships too seriously.
New research has shown that the act of laughter is a form of meditation. In the past, scientists have measured the brain wave frequencies of people who meditate, and now they have done the same with those experiencing humor. They’ve found that the two acts resemble each other in frequency.
It’s clear that meditation is not only empowering and enlightening, but that it’s also super healthy for dealing with states of anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia, among other ailments. Therefore, finding humour in even the most challenging relationship experience is physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually healthy for us.
As an example, how many times have we been in an awkward or emotionally charged experience and somebody makes us laugh? Hopefully, many times. And what happened? Everybody felt instantly better and was able to more functionally deal with the issue at hand.
A healthy relationship also knows how to make fun of itself, which is much easier to do if we’ve got a positive mindset instead of the tendency to have a negative outlook on life. I prefer to see the glass as not half full, but completely full. It might be full of water, beer or wine, full or air, or a mixture of both, but it’s simply always full of both the negative and positive experiences which occur in a relationship. This is a more holistic and realistic conception of reality.
In summary, members of a healthy relationship laugh with and at each other, because it’s a sure-fire way to ensure an equal playing field and face issues in a light-hearted way. Problems are dealt with through a positive mindset. Therefore, no one feels condemned or threatened; the simple act of laughter can put everybody in a space to properly discuss the challenging aspects that arise.
Plus, it’s a super fun and healthy way to live too.
Realistic Expectations and Forgiveness
These are big ones although they’re not always recognized as such. If we have unrealistic expectations of our partner or loved one then we’re destined to create friction, disrespect, divide and conflict – and therefore create an unhealthy relationship.
If we don’t practice forgiveness and continually harbor resentment, then that pain is fated to later manifest in a way that will inherently be unhealthy. This happens a lot in intimate relationships. We all make mistakes that require one person to forgive the other. If we continue in the relationship, but don’t forgive them for their mistakes, then it is intrinsically unhealthy for everyone involved. We need to forgive to move on and grow in a healthy way.
Plus not practicing forgiveness is self-abusive anyway.
A parent or a partner may also have expectations of their loved one that are very unlikely to happen, or won’t happen in the time period that they want. Not only are there certain characteristics and traits that won’t change much about people – no matter how much we push for it, including some that are specific to each sex – but some of the growth that people require takes time and maturity to achieve.
If we expect the change to occur in an unrealistic time frame, instead of accepting and embracing the moment for what it is, then we are without a doubt causing unnecessary suffering for ourselves and our loved ones. That old saying ‘choose your battles wisely’ applies here.
If we unrealistically fight for certain changes or ideals, then we’re likely to create an unhealthy relationship.
It can also plague a parent and child relationship. Kids will be kids – so as mentioned, instead of having unrealistic expectations on who we think they should be, we should instead accept and embrace them for who they are in that moment and try to understand and facilitate the big picture of their growth. This will help us to respectfully guide them so that they eventually do ‘get it’.
Again, this isn’t about just recklessly condoning the behaviour of our significant other, or continually forgiving them in a way that doesn’t encourage them to take responsibility for their behaviours; it’s about caring for ourselves, our loved one and our relationship in a realistic way.
We’re not perfect, so we better bloody well not expect the behaviour of others to always be too.
Love and Respect
These hallmarks are obvious, but sometimes they aren’t in a relationship. If we’re always talking about the homework they haven’t done, the bill they should pay, the behaviour we don’t like or the problems in our own life, then how do we expect our loved one to know how much we love and respect them.
Life is sometimes taken too seriously and we get lost in the noise of our daily experience. We forget to stop and smell the roses. We forget to find awe and peace in every moment. And the same can happen in relationships.
We need to spend the time showing each other how much we love and respect them. If we do, we’ve got one of the most simple and fundamental aspects of creating and maintaining a healthy relationship covered –looking after the feelings and well-being of each other.
Love and respect is illustrated in many ways. It’s not just telling them – it’s also showing them. We can do something spontaneous and nice for them, we can go out of our way to make their life easier, and we can ensure that we exercise the hallmarks described above.
Another way is to hug them for 20 seconds or more. It has been scientifically shown that doing this releases oxytocin – the love hormone – into our bloodstream and therefore we feel high on love. So if we’re in a heated situation, or even a calm one, and we want to make our partner feel loved and respected – then open your arms and give each other an extended hug. It’s a guaranteed win/win.