While red flags or underlying feelings of dissatisfaction can ring alarm bells in your head, signs that your relationship is healthy and thriving may not be as obvious. Because, well, they’re not disrupting your life. Often, you can go about your day taking for granted the fact you’re in a gem of a relationship, especially when the two of you have been together for, what seems like, ever. On the other hand, if your relationship is new, you may want confirmation you’re headed in the right direction. Either way, it’s always nice to check in and know you’re in the right place — with the right person.
I asked Daniela Petznik, Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Uptown Phoenix Counseling, what signals to her a strong and healthy relationship. “First, we are looking to see if there is a secure attachment between partners. That means that each individual in the relationship trusts their partner will show up and be there in times of distress,” she explained. “Secure partners are also able to reach for closeness when they need it — they are able to voice their needs clearly and openly.” So communicating and showing up are basic but major components of a successful relationship.
Another key, according to Petznik, is simply being comfortable enough to be yourself, “Secure partners are also able to be their genuine and authentic self with their significant other because they feel that they are worthy of love and see their partner as trustworthy and reliable.” Raise your hand if you’ve ever dated someone you never truly felt relaxed around — worried about what to say, what they’ll think of you, and if they'll get it. Yeah, it doesn’t feel great and it’s certainly not built to last.
It’s also important to remember that healthy relationships aren’t devoid of disputes. In fact, these moments of friction can increase understanding and closeness if handled in respectful ways. “Healthy relationships have conflict just like any other relationship,” Petznik noted, “However, individuals in a healthy relationship are able to resolve conflicts effectively and are able to have empathy for the other person during times of conflict and stress.” Just like in your closest friendships, empathy is crucial for a genuine and enduring connection.
Alongside empathy, you should also be a non-judgmental sounding board for each other. I spoke with Sivan Barkhordarian, a dating and relationship coach, about what elements she sees in flourishing relationships. “You and your partner keep your judgments at bay. Your partner is not you, you will frequently have different perspectives and interpret things differently, that is ok and very normal and healthy.” She also emphasized the importance of both parties prioritizing the relationship, “This could be as simple as helping with the dishes if your partner has cooked a meal and/or planning a fun day/night out for the two of you. This helps keep the relationship fresh.”
Prioritizing your partner may not always be easy, especially with kids in the picture. But showcasing a loving and strong relationship for your children is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Belinda Luscombe, the author of Marriageology: The Art and Science of Staying Together, shared her knowledge on this topic in a piece for Time, “Research strongly suggests that children whose parents love each other are much happier and more secure than those raised in a loveless environment. They have a model of not just what a relationship looks like but also of how people should treat each other.” Think about what sort of marriage you would want your children to have when they grow up and demonstrate that.
If you were nodding along to all of these points, count yourself lucky. And if you noticed some areas for improvement, don’t worry, it’s not too late. Relationships, like life, are an evolving work in progress — and are well worth the investment.