We are often taught to think of love as an answer to the problems in our lives, which can put such a burden on our relationships to be perfect and easy! The truth is, love and romance, romantic relationships—wonderful and precious though they are—can often be themselves their own source of problems too. Like any other good thing, they require hard work to keep up. They require patience, trial and error, and grace.
And they can be a whirlwind of confusion too; you may have learned that already, and if you haven’t yet, then buckle in! Below we have some thoughts on what a healthy relationship looks like, and what it doesn’t look like.
Healthy relationships encourage you to…
1. Be yourselves first, a couple second:
Especially in our first romances, it can be easy to lose ourselves in a relationship—to think of ourselves as a couple first, and individuals second. But a healthy relationship will encourage you to honor each other’s individual identities, to lift those up, to push those to grow. Being part of a committed relationship doesn’t mean you have to like exactly the same things, you just have to like each other.
2. Be honest:
It’s easy to speak honestly about the happy things, but a healthy relationship should free you to be honest about the difficult things as well. Relationships will get messy, like anything else, so how can we clean them up if we can't talk about everything, even the uncomfortable parts? We need to be able to communicate openly about our personal needs if they’re going to be satisfied. If you find it’s hard to talk about the difficult things together, try getting to the bottom of it.
3. Be kind, even in the middle of a disagreement:
This is important: you will not always get along with your partner! Arguments are necessary for a relationship to grow. However, in a healthy relationship, even during those times when you aren’t getting along, you and your partner will treat each other with kindness and respect. If disagreements always seem to turn to name-calling or other sorts of meanness, that’s a good sign that this relationship isn’t working the way it should be.
4. Be forgiving:
Whoever says, “Love means never having to say you're sorry,” has no idea what they’re talking about! The truth is we will all disappoint the people we care about, and we will all be disappointed ourselves, and the only way we get to keep this operation running is by a generosity of forgiveness, and in our readiness to apologize for our own, even our unintended, hurtful behaviors. A healthy relationship gives us space to mess up and to resolve to do better next time.
5. Be supportive, and be supported:
If, in difficult times, you and your partner look for support from other people and not from each other, that’s a sign that something in this relationship isn’t quite right. Our partners don’t need to be the whole of our support system, but they should still be a steady, regular part of it. A healthy relationship should be a place of safety—a place we can retreat to, recover in, and help each other find our courage again.
6. Take responsibility:
In a healthy relationship, both you and your partner should be putting in the work—making time, giving support, cheering one another on. Now, the work you put in may not be the same exactly, but if it feels like one of you is doing all the heavy lifting, that’s another sign that this relationship isn’t working for the both of you.
7. Enjoy yourself:
It may seem like a basic concept, but we can easily lose sight of this one: are you having fun together? Do you find joy in your time together? If it’s always work and no payoff, something is amiss here. Relationships are often hard work, but they should also be sources of comfort, fun, and peace.
8. Be stronger:
If you feel weak without your partner nearby, that’s a sign this relationship may not be as healthy as you think. A healthy relationship shouldn’t make us feel desperately needful of the other. Instead, a healthy relationship should make us feel stronger and braver - should build us up and push us to be better.
9. Honor each other’s family and friends:
In a healthy relationship, partners will honor each others’ meaningful relationships. We carve out time for our partners to maintain all the loving relationships in their lives. If you feel like you or your partner are keeping the other from spending any time with friends and family, then something isn’t right. A loved one is not someone we get to possess, but someone we get to cherish and encourage.
10. Trust one another:
A healthy relationship is built on a foundation of trust—trust that you will be there for each other, that you have each others’ best interests at heart, even trusting each other with your flaws. A healthy relationship requires work, and that work can’t be done without an open environment of trust and compassion to carry us along.
One healthy relationship may look entirely different from the next, but there is always one thing they have in common: healthy relationships encourage us to #BeWell! And we want to hear all about your relationships. Join the mental health conversation online using the hashtags #BeWell, #BeHeard, and #BeThere. What do relationships mean for your mental wellness?