Sadly many clients have told me that they do not have an example of a healthy relationship, so they do not know if they really exist. Although they may not be as plentiful as we’d like, I do believe they exist.
Here’s what healthy relationships look like:
Agreed upon commitment: healthy couples can talk about boundaries within their relationship. Monogamy is a societal standard, but it is not the only construct for a healthy relationship. The goal is that no one is sacrificing of themselves completely just to please their partner. So if both parties want monogamy, that is the agreed upon commitment. If both parties want to invite others in, then that is the agreed upon commitment. Within a healthy relationship the rules that are agreed upon are respected and protected. And again, how people do that varies, but willing agreement is key.
Connection: people think that money and infidelity are the top reasons for divorce, but the top reason is actually failed attempts at connection. When a person makes a move to get intimate or to feel connected, it is important that the attempt gets acknowledged and/or that one is made in return. It is VERY easy to forget why we like someone, especially with the pressures of day to day life. We must make conscious efforts to stay connected to our partners, and different people feel connected in different ways (ex. the 5 love languages).
Support: the research indicates that there are a great many things that we can do to improve our relationships, but the relationships that make it long term have one thing in common- the couples support each other. If something goes wrong at work, your partner is on your side. If you want to do something, your partner supports your goals. If you need a get away, a back rub, some space, your partner makes it happen for you…and vice versa of course. It can be as simple as talking about your day together and caring what the other experienced. Listening is a sacrifice that is very necessary within a healthy relationship; we listen because we care. We build each other up, and we WANT our partner to reach his/her goals.
Sexual compatibility: the research indicates that women lose interest in their partner sexually 1-3 years in, and men lose interest sexually more like 5-7 years in. This does not mean that either partner has lost love for the other. It just means that the wandering eye gets stronger, and maintaining a sexual connection gets harder. There are things we can do to help with that, and it is important that we put in the effort. Some people choose to open their relationship after so long together, some people try kinkier things, and some people just make extra efforts to stay physically connected with their partner. The important thing for a healthy relationship is that the couple is talking about their needs, wants, fears, interests, etc. I don’t think healthy relationships have perfect sex lives, but I also think sex within relationships is misunderstood, vulnerable, and complex. The ideal goal is to be satisfied, not necessarily having porn level sex at all times. The research indicates that within healthy relationships couples have sex 1-2 times a week, but there are many variations within relationships, depending upon both parties sex drive, health conditions, etc.
Communication: the communication killers are name calling, sarcasm, criticism, mocking, blowing off, ignoring, and getting defensive. However, if we are in a calm state of mind we should be able to talk about most things without the need for those things. If we fail, which we do, even in healthy relationships, we should revisit the problem and come to a resolution. And if there’s a sensitive subject for our partner, we would be cautious in “going there”.
Fun: Having something in common (shared interests) is the groundwork for bonding and connecting. Opposites attract, so sometimes that presents an issue for staying connected. If we find ourselves in a situation where we do not share a lot of interests with our partner, each person should be able to independently do the things he/she loves without it being a fight or argument. In a healthy relationship we should be able to be a separate person in addition to being a partner who shares traditions, fun, and/or commonalities with our partner. And obviously this one is easier if you share the same interests, but it still takes effort to prioritize fun sometimes in our workaholic society.
Grace: we are all going to mess up, things are not always 50/50, and everyone disappoints. Within a healthy relationship we help each other out, forgive, tolerate, understand, accept, and compromise. We still have to prioritize our own needs, but we should also be gracious when our partner is not at 100%, makes a mistake, or is just different from us in some way. There should be room for that within the relationship. We should be able to repair from our low moments. If our partner hurts us, it is dangerous grounds to let ourselves believe that he/she is purposely being hurtful, because it creates resentments. Finally, if your partner is being purposely hurtful, you may consider intervention as that can be very destructive.
This is just a glimpse at the complexity of relationships, and of course things are always complicated. There is no such thing as perfect, but there is happiness, contentment, and longevity in healthy relationships.