What makes for a healthy relationship?
Relationships. Like it or not, we can’t really live without them. For better or worse, our world can be rocked by the quality of our relationships. That’s why our early relationships are so important. It’s from these early years that we learn a lot about what it means to be in relationship with another human being.
As babies and then small children, we rely on our caregivers (mothers, fathers, other adults) to show us what relating to another person involves. That is, how to act, what is and is not o.k., how to share, how to be alone and how to manage stressful situations. As babies and young children we trust the adults in our world to care for us. This makes it easier for us to explore our world, knowing that we can rely on our caregivers to be there when we need them. This is what is known as secure attachment.
There are different types of attachment based on the quality of your early childhood relationships. According to attachment theory there are four basic attachment styles:
Secure, Anxious-ambivalent, Anxious-Avoidance and disorganized attachment. The theory goes that whilst we may have a dominant pattern or style of attachment, our attachment styles can change during our lifetime, depending on our adult relationships and experiences.
A healthy relationship mirrors a secure attachment. In a healthy relationship we have a balance of security and independence. We feel safe with our partner and feel supported whilst also being free to follow our dreams. In a healthy relationship, our primary partner is our most important attachment but not our only attachment. There is room for friendships, family, career and self-fulfillment.
How do you know if you are in an healthy relationship? Well, the two wheel diagrams below help explain the difference. The Power & Control Wheel shows you what an abusive relationship is like so this is clearly not a healthy relationship. The Equality Wheel shows some elements of a healthy relationship, also pictured below.
I too have a list of elements or factors that I consider are essential for making a healthy, long lasting and rewarding relationship. This is my personal list of the sorts of things I consider to be important. I encourage you to think about and make up your own list. If your relationship is not as you would like it to be, perhaps counselling may help you and/or your partner have a look at why this is and what you can do about it.
My list of relationship toolbox essentials:
Communication – the couple that talk together, stay together. If you can talk to your partner as if they were your best friend then chances are, when you are both older, greyer and hopefully wiser, you will still be able to just sit together and talk. When everything else fades, conversation is priceless.
The Comfortable Silence – Just as it is important to be able to talk well together, so is it important to be able to sit quietly in the same room together and not feel like you have to talk. Reading together, checking your social media feeds, watching TV or a movie, are all simple things that can be done quietly and contently.
Knowing the game plan – making sure you both want the same thing and are on the same page when it comes to the relationship’s strategic plan. Do you both want marriage, or not. Kids or not. Big wedding or elope to Las Vegas.? Whilst marriage and children are tricky topics to bring up, and perhaps not a good idea to do so on the first date, at some stage it has to be discussed. I had a good friend who spent 7 years with a man because she assumed he would want children at the appropriate time but when that time came, he made it clear that he did not. Ever. It was a heartbreaking situation.
Sex & Intimacy – Worthy of a blog post of it’s own, but in my humble opinion, sex is as important in a relationship as both parties deem it to be. Some couples are bonking all the time, some save it for a special occasion. For me, it’s about quality not quantity and as long as there is physical closeness, affection, intimacy and everyone’s needs are being met most of the time, that’s good enough for me.
Friendship – At the core of any romantic relationship in my book is a solid friendship. You know, the sort of friendship where it doesn’t matter what you do, if you’re doing it with your bestie then it’s a fun time. Having a partner that is a best friend as well as a romantic partner is the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned.
Negotiating – Sometimes you are not going to agree with your partner. He is not going to want to come to that family barbecue. She is not going to want to watch that movie with you. There are times when you both want different things. That’s when the ability to negotiate fairly becomes an essential tool in keeping your relationship healthy and thriving. Aiming for a win-win scenario, knowing when to concede a point, showing some restraint when it comes to pushing yours – the art and ability to negotiate is an invaluable relationship tool.
Time – The saying goes, All good things take time. And this is particularly true for relationships. If you are spending 50+ hours at work and are at the gym every other day then your relationship is going to suffer. Period. Likewise, if you cannot think of doing anything without your partner in tow or your partner won’t go anywhere without you then this is not ideal either. Finding a good balance of time spent together and apart is a delicate art at times, but one well worth trying to get right.
Laughter – Laughter is quintessentially human. Being able to laugh with (and sometimes at) your partner is a magical, beautiful thing. A relationship with plenty of laughter peppered throughout is like taking vitamins to keep your healthy on the inside. If you can laugh with your partner when things are going well then it just may be the balm you need to soothe the relationship when life gets more challenging.
Authenticity – the ability to truly be yourself when you are with the person you love is, to me, the most essential relationship factor. Feeling like you can say whatever is on your mind, take off your “professional” mask and relax with your significant other is so important. After all, having to pretend to be someone else for years can get pretty exhausting! If you can be your true self with your partner it makes the stress and anxiety that comes with every day life easier. I love that feeling of coming home to my partner and being able to just breathe a sigh of relief.
Well that is it for now. See if you can come up with your own list of relationship factors that you think make the perfect blend when it comes to a healthy, thriving and fulfilling relationship. If you feel I have left anything out that you think is super important, feel free to comment below.