We write songs, sonnets, movies, books, and vows in the name of love. In some way, we all have crossed paths with love, marking us forever and leaving most of us hungry for more.
Falling in love tends to be the easy part, but a relationship, especially a healthy one, requires a few key ingredients to really go the distance. What does a healthy romantic relationship look like?
In addition to referring to well-respected relationship experts and social scientists, I also took to the streets, the Facebook streets that is, to gather direct feedback from real life experiences, and in turn confirming what the experts are saying. Few subjects get as much of a response as love and relationships.
Consider these tips below when seeking to have a healthy relationship.
It’s important to note that abuse in any form is not conducive to a healthy relationship, and if you or someone you know finds his- or herself in such a situation, please reach out for help or if needed, get out of the relationship entirely.
“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.” – Unknown
You are a total catch. Take time to really get to know the person in the mirror. This can be hard work, but the rewards are many.
Begin with asking yourself questions like:
Do I know what my triggers are? (“I feel insecure when…”, or “I really dislike it when…”, or “I have a hard time trusting my partner when…”)
What are my non-negotiables? (He / she must love dogs, be active, share food with me in public places, and know how to make kick-ass banana ice cream)
What is my knee-jerk reaction when conflict arises? (I tend to shut down, hold it all in and bristle, become enraged and throw things, have a difficult time assembling my words in the moment, etc…)
What is my preferred way of receiving love (5 Love Languages)? (I prefer to hear words of affirmation. Acts of service does nothing for me. I love it when I get a gift! etc…)
Being honest with yourself about these and other insightful questions will serve as useful tools in building a healthy relationship.
Here are other examples of questions to get you started:
- What are my top three core values?
- How do I envision my career panning out?
- How do I handle and view the use of money?
- Am I an introvert, ambivert or extrovert?
- How much space or lack of space do I expect to have in a relationship?
There are so many books and articles on this subject that can help guide you on this journey of self-discovery. Check out your local library or go online for more resources.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” – Brené Brown
Knowing and loving yourself are closely intertwined, and really the foundation of not only a healthy relationship, but a fulfilling and wholehearted life. Full stop.
Consider this age-old question, “How can I give something away I don’t already have or believe about myself?”
Make yourself the most important person in your life first. Accept all parts of who you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We all have dark and cob-webbed corners of ourselves, so be kind to yourself as you are becoming your own biggest fan. You are worth it!
There are many ways to invest in yourself, such as daily affirmations, therapy and regular nights out with the girls or the guys (you can even do a virtual meet-up!), but the most important part of this journey towards loving yourself is believing it. Drink your own kool-aid.
Showing up to a healthy relationship will require all of you, not a compromised version of you. Knowing and loving yourself will help you set and maintain healthy boundaries, know when you need to walk away from a heated argument, and speak up about what you need and don’t like… unapologetically. This vulnerability and self-awareness will help keep you steady through the storms of life and your relationship.
“Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life. Without it, it dies.” – Tony Gaskins
Communication is the most consistent advice given for a healthy relationship. Communication is a delicate dance, so it is important to learn how to move together.
Steven Dziedzic, Founder of Lasting and former Director of Product for The Knot, has created “an app for that” meant to empower couples to love better. A nominal fee is involved, but has received high praise for being well worth the investment. When considering all the components that go into having a lasting healthy relationship, this app (and the extensive research that backs it) covers all the bases.
When it comes to communication, listening to your partner, staying curious and developing habits of learning more about your partner’s “inner world” are important to establishing a healthy relationship.
Speaking up can be a scary thing, and understandably so. Continually fall back on the love you have for yourself, and voice your needs, if something hurt you, or when you would rather not get Thai food (as yummy as it is) for the umpteenth time. We all have our limits; get to know yours and feel the freedom to speak up for the sake of yourself and the one you are with.
Communication wields a lot of power, and as a result can heal as well as inflict pain, so give yourself and your partner grace, stay curious, and commit to the process and to your sweetheart.
The subjects of communication and conflict are closely intertwined. The 5 Love Languages, developed by Dr. Gary Chapman, in addition to the numerous other resources he provides, are powerful tools in learning how you and your partner both receive love.
Also, Susan Heitler, a Clinical Psychologist and author who masters in the subject of conflict resolution for relationships, illustrates the method she likes to call “The Win-Win Waltz.” She also has a plethora of blogs, books, articles and podcasts shedding light and insight on this sometimes touchy subject.
Having a conversation about conflict can be a helpful tool in establishing preset parameters designed to maintain a safe space for conflict to arise and then be resolved.
When a conflict arises, don’t be afraid to table a heated discussion for later. Apply the age-old wisdom of avoiding going to bed angry. It isn’t real long-term peace to avoid a hard conversation and thus settle for walking on eggshells; instead, clear the air with the one you love. Resentment and bitterness are like a poison, and if allowed to fester, can dismember and destroy a relationship.
“Love recognizes no barriers.” – Maya Angelou
Get really comfortable with owning your mistakes and making amends… genuinely. Though not necessarily a bad thing, resolution will usually take more than picking up some flowers on the way home from work. Fighting fair requires vulnerability. Listen, truly listen. Value the experience and feelings of your partner. Apologize. Take responsibility for your actions and any personal adjustments that need to be made moving forward. There is also no shame in reaching out to a therapist or trusted mediator to work through tough issues separately or together, depending on your unique needs.
Overall stay focused on the goal: cultivating a healthy relationship which can weather the toughest times and produce gold in both of you.
Keep Dating Each Other
“Love is friendship that has caught fire.” – Ann Landers
The first time she held your hand. That first glance and lingering smile. The first time he leaned in to kiss you. This was just the beginning. Healthy relationships deepen and grow through shared experiences, time together, time apart, and intimacy, just to name a few. That dreamy crush of yours in your early dating days will evolve over time. Pursue your partner as he / she unfolds before you through the months and years.
Keep dating each other. Literally put it on the calendar. You love this person, so be in it to win it. Establish with your partner regular date and hang times that make sense for your unique relationship. If you share a favorite hobby (like, painting glass) or pastime (like, just being in the same room together reading books), incorporate these practices into your lives together. Make intimacy a consistent priority and mutual experience between the two of you as well.
Laugh at goofy jokes. Take care of each other. Defend one another. Cook together. Sleep in until noon on a Saturday (if you can). Be each other’s ride or die.
Continually dating each other not only reminds you why you love the one you are with but also why you like him or her, and if cultivated well, will sweeten over time.
Need dating ideas? The Adventure Challenge is probably one of the coolest (and cutest) ideas on the internet right now. There are even family and friend challenge packages. Seriously, check it out.
Give yourself and your partner extra room to breathe and just be. A healthy relationship should not be suffocating.
One way is for each of you to spend time with other friends. Or start a new hobby (trail running anyone?) Or take yourself on a weekly journaling date to a local coffeeshop. There are so many options. Whatever it looks like to give each other space to breathe and just be, mutually agree with your partner to make this a priority in a way that is respectful and life-giving for both of you.
Trust each other as well. Space will rejuvenate each of you as individuals and that distance makes the heart grow fonder. Value the importance of space for each of you and enthusiastically support one another in this.
“When you love someone, you love the person they are, and not as you’d like them to be.” – Leo Tolstoy
Giving space also requires accepting your partner as is, which gives each other space to fully show up to the relationship. It may be tempting to change him or her. For example, if you are in the dating / get-to-know-you stage of a budding relationship, and the one you are crushing on informs you that having children is not something they want, and it is a massive desire for you, avoid any tendency to stick around to see if he or she will suddenly change his or her mind. Believe them, and move on. Don’t settle, because ain’t nobody got time for that.
This is a daily, and sometimes moment by moment, decision. Oh, how important it is (and how tough it can be!) to drop our weapons and dismantle the walls around our heart!
You will inevitably mishandle your partner’s heart, and your partner will inevitably do the same. Regardless, let love continually win you over, and as much as you may want to sometimes, don’t withhold love. Please. Keeping your heart open is one of the most vulnerable (and bravest!) acts one can do. You are worth it, and your healthy relationship is also worth it.
“Love is an endless act of forgiveness.” – Beyoncé
For a great resource on the study of vulnerability, shame, courage and empathy, I highly recommend Brené Brown. Her TedTalk The Power of Vulnerability is one of the top 5 most watched in the history of TedTalk worldwide, and her studies, books and programs have revolutionized everything from business cultures to everyday relationships.
For the singles
The mention of singleness might provoke a massive eye roll of annoyance. Or it may be a long-awaited breath of fresh air. Or it may be a sore spot which is poked and prodded around the dinner table when you go home to see your parents.
Wherever you land on this spectrum of singleness, these last few tips are for you:
- As difficult or as easy as it may be to consider, singleness can be a gift. Use this time to get to know and love yourself. Build that career. Find out what you really want outside of common societal pressures (Do you want kids? To live in the suburbs? To settle down in your 20s?). Travel. Go on dates. Or don’t go dates. Mostly, be and become you, whatever that looks like.
- See each dating relationship as an opportunity to learn and grow. Some suggest the journey of singleness and dating as just a series of stepping stones to meeting the right person. Try not to take it personally as you go through the process (Easier said than done, but keep at it). Give yourself grace. Keep showing up. You’re doing great.
- Be with someone who is also your friend.
- Don’t settle. You’re worth it
In Closing – Those three words
Love is one of life’s greatest joys. Arguably, it is everything. When you have the pleasure of building a healthy relationship with the one you love, don’t neglect to say the three words that started it all, and say them often.
In the words of Zelda Fitzgerald, “I’ve tried so many times to think of a new way to say it, and it’s still ‘I love you.’”
Because these are just too good:
“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because the reality is finally better than your dreams.” – Dr. Seuss
“I love you for all that you are, all that you have been, and all that you will be.” – Unknowns
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.” – Winnie the Pooh