When we see certain characteristics between couples, it’s a good sign of a healthy and happy relationship.
Relationships are always a work in progress, but if you have some idea of what maintains healthy relationships, you’ll know the direction to head in.
- A similar group of traits is seen in healthy relationships.
- By focusing on what makes relationships successful, we see areas where we can improve.
- Respect, admiration, and support are critical to a successful relationship.
Are there common traits in a healthy relationship?
Relationship experts John Gottman and Stan Tatkin have both created valuable ways to show some of the characteristics of a healthy relationship.
We can use models such as Gottman’s Sound Relationship House and Tatkin’s 10 Commandments for Relationship Essentials as guides for building a strong relationship.
Here are 14 characteristics we often find in healthy relationships:
1. Spend time learning about each other
Building your friendship and showing interest in your partner’s world is ongoing in healthy relationships. It’s easy to drift apart; couples don’t always have shared interests. But if you talk and stay engaged in each other’s lives, you can maintain a close connection and sense of affection.
Tune in when your partner is excited about their hobbies, interests, work, and other aspects of their life. Good communication helps you stay friends, even if you’re spending time doing your own thing.
2. Share fondness and physical affection
The ability to show softness in each other’s company is an important characteristic of a healthy relationship. Greet your partner with a sense of warmth. Offer a smile and soft eyes, even if you argued the last time you were in the same room.
A small offering of fondness–a gentle touch on the shoulder, a smile, a hand on the knee–is a key characteristic of a good relationship and lets your partner know you care.
Frequent words of appreciation and admiration, even a simple thank you for doing the dishes or “You look nice,” all add up emotionally at the end of the day. It’s these small, daily things that build a loving relationship.
3. Noticing the positives in your partner
When you start to notice your partner’s negative qualities and failings more than their positives, that’s a red flag that contempt is sneaking into your relationship. John Gottman calls contempt one of the “Four Horsemen” that are the mark of an unhealthy relationship. Respect for your partner is hard to regain once lost.
For mutual respect, we need to push against contempt in our relationships and remind ourselves to notice the good about our partners and avoid the blame game.
Consider each other’s feelings. You might have different opinions, but those differences don’t need to affect your happiness as a couple. True love is based on mutual respect, not perfection.
What are the qualities you admire about your partner? What aspects make them a good partner? Stay your partner’s number 1 fan.
4. Be responsive to each other’s needs.
Listening is vital to a healthy relationship. First, learn your partner’s needs–people don’t always express their needs or emotional boundaries clearly–and then be responsive to them.
Open communication about tough times helps maintain healthy relationships. But it’s not always easy to respond to your partner’s feelings. If you’re unsure how to respond in a situation, don’t be afraid to gently ask, “What do you need from me right now?”
Curiosity and openness are always healthy ways to navigate difficult conversations and big emotions. We don’t need all the answers, just the ability to talk with honesty, mutual respect, and affection.
5. Keep them in the loop
In his 10 Commandments for Relationship Essentials, Tatkin talks about the importance of making sure your partner is the first person to know what’s going on for you.
Couples in a healthy relationship prioritise each other above all else. Making your partner # 1 doesn’t mean you drop everything for your partner 100% of the time. It’s okay to have your own personal space. It’s more of a mindset.
In a good relationship, you can convey that your partner is #1 by ensuring they’re the person you first share your issues and exciting or important news with. There are no hiding things or making important decisions alone.
Keeping your partner in the loop means talking about those things that matter, and sharing with honesty and open communication. Doing that enhances the safety and security of your relationship.
6. Learn gentleness in your communication
It can be easier to be harsh with your loved ones than with strangers. When you prioritise your well-being as a couple and your partner’s mental health–considering what’s good for both of you–gentleness comes more easily.
Even conversations about difficult subjects can be started in soft, gentle ways. Approach conversations with curiosity and the aim of learning and improving rather than an attack. Gottman calls this a “soft startup.”
7. Be quick to say “I’m sorry” and “thank you”
Relationships feel more secure and friendly if we notice and address our partner’s distress quickly. If they’re upset or hurt by something you did, avoid explaining, defending, or justifying.
Try apologising first for any hurtful things. I know this is hard to do in the moment, but your own opinions can wait until your partner feels calm and safe.
Likewise, if your partner apologises to you, a “thank you” leads to better results than any other response.
“You always do that, though!” and “This is the third time this week!” will only lead to feeling more insecure and increase conflict. The underlying issue may still need to be addressed together, but restoring your bond is a priority.
8. Regulate yourself well during conflict
Healthy couples approach conflict as allies. They think about how to work together to fix and solve problems.
In conflict, avoid pointing the finger at your partner and instead focus on areas where you need to improve to manage the situation better. Was there something you said or did that wasn’t helpful? Are there behaviours you need to change or learn or deeper issues you need to address?
Tatkin calls this managing 3rds effectively. 3rds can be other people, issues, or struggles. For example, a 3rd could be :
- Alcohol or drug use.
- An issue with caring for your children or elderly parents.
- Financial problems, overspending, or debt
You and your partner are a team–the two of you working together–the issue is a 3rd.
It’s important to remember the 3rd is what you’re working on, NOT each other.
9. Repair well after conflict
Learning to self-soothe and soothe your partner to quickly repair any hurt feelings or distance caused by a conflict is important.
Soothing might look like going for a walk alone or listening to music. It might look like lying in bed and having a hug.
10. Create a shared vision
A shared purpose or vision doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as knowing how you’ll walk through life together: “We’re going to stand together through the ups and downs of life.”
Or who you want to be in the world as a couple: “We will be the kind of couple who helps others whenever we can, providing hospitality and practical support.”
It also might look more specific and practical. What are your future goals and dreams? Can you help each other achieve them?
One way to create a shared vision is to think about the home environment you’ll both enjoy–that might be physically decorating your space or working on the atmosphere at home: dinnertime routines, games night, house rules, etc.
11. Trust each other and ensure each other’s safety
Many of the characteristics of healthy relationships impact trust. For example, when you keep your partner in the loop, express fondness and gentleness, and are responsive to your partner’s needs, you are saying, “You can trust me.”
Trust is made up of many small actions that make your relationship feel safe and secure. It’s a foundational characteristic of a healthy relationship.
12. Commit to the relationship
Healthy couples never threaten the existence of the relationship. It can be easy in an argument to make throw-away statements, like: “Maybe this is just too hard!” or “I can’t do this anymore.” But those kinds of statements shake the security of your relationship and damage your partner’s trust.
Keep threats out of conflict, and make sure your partner knows you’re serious about your commitment to the relationship–even when hard times come.
If the relationship needs to end, as they sometimes do, that decision should be made when you’re calm, never in a heated argument.
13. Ensure the mutuality of your relationship
Healthy relationships are equal and balanced. It’s challenging to get mutuality perfect, and we often need to make adjustments–what works when you’re both young and healthy may not work when children come along or if one of you becomes ill.
Mutuality is about taking care of each other, not just your own needs. In healthy relationships, there is respect for each other as equal adults. You care for each other and make major decisions together, taking into consideration what’s best for both of you.
14. Have their back in public and private
As Tatkin says, it’s important never to throw your partner under the bus. Your partner needs to know you’re on their side; you keep them emotionally safe at home and in public.
- Healthy relationships are based on sound foundations like trust, fondness, and commitment.
- Building your relationship with strong foundations makes it more solid when difficulties arise.
- These characteristics, mostly centred around respect, support, and admiration, are more important than compatible interests or chemistry. They make you feel safe and secure in your marriage.
Do you need relationship help?
If you and your partner are considering trying marriage counselling, contact Clinton at (02) 8968 9323 during business hours to discuss your situation and find out how Clinton’s counselling services can help, or book an appointment online now.
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.