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Therapists’ List of the 12 Markers of a Healthy Relationship

In healthy relationships, you and your partner are respectful of each other’s beliefs and personalities. They don’t push each other’s boundaries, either physical or emotional, and they don’t make each other jealous of the time you spend with friends or family.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rom-coms and fairy tales that romanticize healthy relationships, but all couples have their own unique experiences. These 12 markers can help you determine whether your relationship is healthy.

1. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to connect with others and understand their feelings.

Research shows that empathy is related to compassion, which is the willingness to help others. Studies also show that people who are empathetic are more likely to help strangers and stigmatized individuals.

One theory of how we evolved to feel empathy is that it stems from ancient subcortical circuits associated with pain and reward systems, as well as with the neuro-hormonal mechanisms involved in affective sensitivity and attachment. In humans, it is thought that this system was co-opted in order to enable mothers to detect stylized distress signals from their offspring and thus provide care. [2]

2. Communication

It’s one of the most important markers of a healthy relationship because it allows you to express your thoughts and feelings. It also helps you work through difficult situations in a productive way, which can lead to intimacy and closeness.

A therapist with couples counseling training can help you develop better communication habits. A therapist can teach you how to de-escalate an argument, stay calm, use humor effectively, apologize effectively, and make your partner feel heard and understood during stressful moments.

3. Respect

Respect is one of the most important markers for a healthy relationship. A couple must respect each other and also be respectful of themselves.

Respect includes listening attentively to your partner, using open communication, and prioritizing their feelings and opinions. It also involves recognizing that they have different experiences and opinions than you do and being willing to compromise for their well-being.

In an abusive relationship, respect is often lacking. This is due to one or both partners having a desire for non-consensual power and control over the other. It can also be a result of one partner calling the other names or belittling them in any way, including via text and email. It is important to address these issues and learn how to be respectful in conflict as this can help prevent violence. Various forms of respect have been distinguished, such as directive, evaluative, and appreciative (Hudson 1980). Each type has its own implications for how it should be practiced and valued.

4. Safety

Safety is an important marker for a healthy relationship because it allows both partners to trust each other enough to be open and vulnerable. It also helps them feel that their feelings will be validated, even if they disagree with each other.

Emotional safety is a two-way street and it takes time to build. However, the results can be a deeply loving and satisfying connection that thrives on mutual respect and unconditional support.

This is different than physical safety, which requires an absence of physical abuse or threats. In therapy we work to build both types of safety, but focusing on emotional safety can be very helpful for couples seeking a deeper, happier connection. Emotional safety can prevent isolation, mistrust and resentment. It can also help couples heal from the trauma of betrayal and rejection.

5. Trust

Having trust in your partner is one of the most important markers of a healthy relationship. This means that you believe they won’t hurt you physically or emotionally and that they will respect your personal boundaries and give you space to be yourself.

A sign of a person you can trust is that they keep conversations open and transparent. They also admit when they’ve made a mistake and share their deepest fears without holding back.

Healthy relationships are interdependent, but that doesn’t mean you should be dependent on your partner for everything. It’s essential to maintain a sense of identity outside of your relationship, as well as have mutually beneficial activities that allow both of you to grow. This can include hobbies, spending time with friends, or even taking a little time away from each other.

6. Flexibility

Adaptability during adversity and hardships is an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship. Being flexible allows you and your partner to work through these challenges together.

Flexibility is the ability of muscle and connective tissues to move through a full range of motion without injury at a joint or group of joints. Unlike other fitness components, flexibility is highly specific to individual joints. Thus, it is difficult to establish a link between flexibility and health outcomes using the same cross-sectional studies used to assess aerobic capacity or muscular strength.

For example, if your partner is more introverted and prefers to spend time alone, you may need to be flexible about scheduling social activities so that they can both enjoy their respective interests. Being flexible also helps you forgive others, which is an important aspect of a healthy relationship.

7. Affection

Affection is a necessary part of romantic and familial relationships. This feeling of liking and caring can be demonstrated in many ways, including physical intimacy, kissing, holding hands, hugging, playfully pinching or stroking someone’s cheeks, and even simply calling to say “I love you.” Affection is a key factor in mitigating relationship conflict and can help to keep people connected during difficult times.

However, too much affection can be a red flag as it can lead to manipulative behavior like “love bombing” and can cause a person to feel they have no personal space or autonomy. It’s important to understand and respect that everyone has different needs for affection and to communicate this to your loved one. Learning your partner’s love language is a great way to do this..

8. Intimacy

When people hear the word intimacy, they often think about sex. But the quality of intimacy stretches far beyond physical closeness. It involves sharing personal, emotional, mental, and spiritual connections.

This type of intimacy is based on trust, which comes from honest communication. It allows you to tell your loved ones things that they wouldn’t be able to share with strangers. It can also involve engaging in intellectual activities together, such as discussing deep philosophical questions or learning a new skill.

Intimacy is a key aspect of healthy relationships, but it can be difficult to cultivate. If you and your partner are struggling to establish intimacy, couples counseling or individual therapy can help.

9. Friendship

Friendship is one of the most important relationships in your life. Friendship can bring a sense of belonging, self-esteem, and purpose to your life.

Strong friendships are often based on mutual respect and care for each other. Friends work together and sometimes give up something to benefit each other.

Healthy friends set clear rules for how they expect to be treated and they follow them. They also tell each other when a personal boundary has been crossed.

It can be easy to prioritize your career, family, and home over healthy friendships, but emerging research from evolutionary biology, psychology, and neuroscience shows that prioritizing friendship, even if it feels indulgent, can improve your mental health and overall well-being. If you’re struggling to build a healthy, happy friendship, talking with a therapist can help. They can help you understand your feelings and teach you skills to build meaningful relationships.

10. Growth

One important marker of a healthy relationship is the growth that comes from it. When a couple can grow together and learn from their mistakes, they are on the right track to a happy, long life.

Antin says growth can mean different things to each person in the relationship, but it is always good when each partner is growing and working on their own issues and strengths in the process. It’s also a sign of health when partners are supportive of each other’s friends and other relationships in their lives.

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