Last week I was pondering if I have actually seen any healthy and happy romantic relationships and shared my conversations with Pete about it. (In case you missed the newsletter you can read it here.)
I was looking for online definitions of a healthy and “good” relationship. And I realized what I read didn’t really match my thinking fully. Many descriptions were fluffy and unclear – I didn’t know what trust, respect, love or good communication actually meant in details in everyday life.
So I went to the drawing board and came up with what I consider to be elements of a healthy romantic relationship. I write romantic and most of these points go to all relationships. I had actually fun writing this and asked Pete to write his list too before seeing mine!
Do you have what you consider a healthy relationship in your life?
Who is it with and what are the key factors?
Here’s what I came up with:
10 Elements of a Healthy Relationship
1. Talking and sharing.
Being honest also about the tricky stuff.
Important topics to talk about include anger, jealousy, sadness, secrets, past lovers and relationships, childhood stuff, trauma, shame, what you are scared of, obsessions, compulsions, addictions, money, sex, sexual fantasies, boundaries, what you are excited about, dreams, wishes, goals, joy, appreciation, children and how to raise them, or the wish to have them.
You are open about attractions towards other people and have clear agreements whether acting on attractions is okay in the relationship. When jealousy comes up you talk about it and stay with those, maybe uncomfortable, sensations and emotions until you both are in a better place.
Trust is built by showing yourself, being open about shameful and unpleasant stuff, expressing your anger, sadness and appreciation, being willing to listen and stay present even if you would rather run away.
This one includes being willing to hurt each other’s feelings. Trying to manage other people’s feelings is an endless game. A better solution is owning things upfront and also stating that the purpose of your sharing is to be honest rather than hurt the other.
2. Being willing to stay present even when things get tough.
This includes both listening and sharing. It’s okay to have a wish to leave the room, change the subject or not to discuss difficult topics or express “negative emotions”, however in a healthy relationship both partners are willing to express and listen. You are both committed to not running away or leaving things unresolved when they get tricky. I don’t mean endless processing at 2 am, but rather talking as long as it takes or scheduling another time to discuss it if it’s late, you are going around in circles, or you are too tired to discuss further.
Verbalizing whatever is going on with you is the key. It’s ok to say ”I want to leave the room / run away AND I will stay present”.
3. Taking responsibility for your emotions, reactions, triggers and wishes.
(Interestingly lists I found hardly ever included this one which I consider really important.)
Both partners are aware that they are responsible for their emotions and actions. Your partner cannot “make” you feel or do anything. Each partner is the creator of their experiences and emotions.
In a healthy relationship, both partners are willing to communicate what is going on with them and tell the other person what they want and what they don’t want (also sexually) and stay present when the partner shares what they want and don’t want.
4. Being willing to hear ‘No’ from our partner and say no ourselves.
At times we want different things and that’s totally fine and that doesn’t make one’s wants “bad” or “wrong”. You can exercise this by making an agreement that you both support each other in saying what you truly want and don’t want. And part of this agreement is to stay present in case either one gets upset or angry.
I think it is important to understand that a “no” does not mean our partner doesn’t love or care about us or is abandoning or rejecting us. Some of us people pleasers also find it easier to hear a “no” than say a “no”. That’s fine, we can practise that and say “no” even if we feel uncomfortable or worry about our partner feeling hurt or angry.
5. Having clear agreements.
For example: Do we have other sexual or emotional partners? Will we have children together? Do we share our money? Do we decide together about spending money? How much time do we spend together? If you already have children from an earlier relationship how is your partner involved in that child’s / children’s’ life? How much alone time and separate space do we each want? What is important for each of us and how we ensure they can fulfill those wishes? How we deal with money?
I propose you write down your agreements and check them every six months or so and change your agreements to fit whatever seems to be most relevant to you in that moment. We tend to be pretty dynamic and what we want, expect and find important also changes.
6. Having fun together and being willing to see humor in things which might feel serious at first.
For me this one means: we are willing to laugh at ourselves and laugh together. Most things are not that serious. The list of non-series things definitely include: my anger, your anger, how to squeeze the toothpaste tube, leaving socks or other clothing on the floor, cleaning at home, cooking, sex, sexual fantasies, work.
Fun can also mean creating and playing together, and experiencing child-like joy and freedom.
7. Noticing early warnings, and addressing things immediately when they arise.
This one is about telling the truth and more so about working on your noticing skills, noticing when “irritation”, dissatisfaction or anger is arising and asking for a space to discuss it.
In my experience I have three rules to have a good setting for a “serious”or potentially triggering conversation: ensure we are not hungry, ensure we are not too tired or have the talk late in the evening and have a quiet safe space.
8. A mutual willingness to (continually) work on ourselves.
Both partners are willing to work on themselves individually and together, look at their triggers, patterns and traumas and are open to talk about them with the partner. Both are willing to use external support, talking with friends and using other support mechanisms.
In my opinion great healing can happen in the closest relationships and also our deepest wounds and triggers tend to activate in a safe environment. It’s also good if you have other people to rely on for support than only your partner.
9. Compassion, love and care.
You love each other as you are. If you feel you need to change or be different for your partner to accept you or love you, address it and eventually walk away if you can’t get to a place where both accept the other one as they are. This does not mean wanting them to be different at times or never getting pissed off about things they say or do. This means that you accept and love the other as they are and don’t have an ongoing agenda to change them.
Compassion for me is willingness to put yourself to the other shoes, listen and witness what is going on with them. Compassion does not mean unwanted advice, fixing or saving. Most people know the best how to figure out difficult things.
Care is about being willing to support each other. This does not mean doing this at the expense of yourself and being clear when for example we don’t want to listen much longer.
10. Physical touch.
I am talking about sexual and sensual touch and enjoying your sexuality. And also about showing closeness and care physically, hugging, little touches on the shoulder or back, holding hands, kissing to say goodbye and more, or whatever feels natural to you.
You are your own person, whether you are in a relationship or not.
How was this list for you? Is something important to you missing? Here’s a video share more about this subject:
P.S. You can find more helpful information about topics like honesty in relationships, codependency, additional, practicing Radical Honesty, and creating your best life here on the Honesty Europe blog and on our YouTube channel!
Or if you’re feeling more daring… join us for an upcoming workshop! (Alone or with your partner!)