by Don Olund
Relationships are risky. No matter how well you think you know the other person, there is no guarantee you won’t get hurt. In fact, in the best of relationships, couples disappoint or hurt each other from time to time. No secret there. Most of us can deal with that. In the end, we are imperfect people forming imperfect relationships.
However, repeated or severe hurt can really threaten security in a relationship. Lies, betrayal, selfishness, or controlling behavior will shake the foundation. What foundation am I talking about?
I’m talking about trust.
If you want a healthy relationship, you have to work hard on building trust between you. This takes time and effort by both sides. One cannot do the work of two. It never works that way. A mutual effort is needed.
In a healthy relationship, couples value trust and protect it together. They build on this foundation by making certain agreements.
So how do you know if your relationship has what it takes? Check this out.
1. You allow each other space to be yourself
Relationships need space for each person to breathe. If you give up too much of yourself you will suffocate! Healthy couples don’t allow this to happen. Instead, they accept each other. They also encourage and support the expression of these individual differences. This includes accommodating each other’s need for personal time.
I enjoy sports, rock n’ roll, and contemporary movies. My wife prefers nature walks, 80s music, and classic movies. I don’t try to get her to be like me, nor does she try to get me to change. We accept our differences and enter each other’s world occasionally.
In a healthy relationship, support is mutual. Honoring personal boundaries shows respect. When you feel accepted, respected, and supported by your partner, the relationship is solid.
2. You keep your relationship exclusive
Another sign of a healthy relationship is an agreement couples make to keep their relationship exclusive. They establish boundaries to keep private the love and romance they share. These couples avoid getting into compromising relationships that threaten the security of their bond.
Affairs are a big threat today in our culture. Ashley Madison is one of many examples. The existence of an affair, even though hidden, shifts a relationship from exclusive to inclusive. A mysterious third party now enters sacred territory. When an affair is exposed, it severely damages the relationship. I help couples recover from an affair. Trust me, you do not want to be in that arena!
If you want your relationship to be healthy, make a mutual agreement to keep sacred the love you have for each other. When it comes to romance and matters of the heart, keep it exclusive. Don’t allow anyone but your mate in that space.
3. You make a regular investment in the relationship
There is an easy way to tell if a couple has a healthy relationship: their calendar. These couples have regular date nights and occasional weekends away. They know this is money well invested (notice I didn’t say spent).
In my work with couples, I encourage them to have planned time and pockets of time. Planned time as I already described is on your calendar. Pockets of time pop up during the day or week and allow you a small break to connect. You can use it to share a latte at Starbucks or jump in the sack for a quickie!
The investment healthy couples make is not only time and money. They also invest in a daily effort to stay tuned in to each other. These couples find ways to check in with each other during the day.
My wife and I do the occasional text and phone call. Recently, I was blindsided by a major problem that happened at work. During a chat with my wife, she stepped away from her desk, listened to me unload, and talked me off the ledge with her calm and supportive voice.
The effort to stay tuned in accomplishes several things. It allows you to know what’s going on with your partner. It gives you an opportunity to offer support. Also, knowing that you have each other’s back feels good!
4. You are friends and lovers
Balancing friendship and romance is a definite sign you have a healthy relationship. Maintaining laughter, having a sense of humor, with your partner pumps oxygen into the relationship. Nothing better than a good laugh together to work out stress and keep things in perspective. Isn’t that what friends enjoy doing?
A sense of adventure is also good too! Do you do fun things together? When was the last time you tried something new together? One of the couples I work with started taking dance lessons. Totally new territory for them. They really enjoy learning something new together. It has been great for the relationship!
When we travel, we love to hit the backroads and see what surprises come up along the way. Some of the best memories my wife and I have happen when we go off-roading.
Healthy couples also keep the hunt alive in their relationship. They still flirt with each other, sending sexual cues back and forth. Romance remains a front-burner activity, getting plenty of action to satisfy each other’s need for romance.
5. You talk well, and listen better
People in a healthy relationship know how to communicate really well. They know that listening is the differentiator in good communication. If you know the art of listening and validating your partner, you are light years ahead of most couples.
People who communicate poorly talk over each other, do not listen well, react in a defensive manner, and let their emotions get out of control. If you want a healthy relationship, communicate with this approach in mind:
- Slow down when you talk.
- Keep your emotions in check.
- Listen to what your partner says.
- Summarize what you hear and validate feelings.
- Avoid using the word “but” too quickly or often.
- Give each other the courtesy of being heard and understood.
Don Olund is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, executive coach, and author, helping individuals, couples, and families break negative interactive patterns and create healthy, respectful relationships. Don has a reputation for being compassionate, solution-oriented and truly understanding. If you struggle to communicate or connect with the people in your life he can provide solutions that work.