Relationships play a hugely important role in our lives. We humans are social beings, and the way we interact with others has a significant impact on our mental health and overall wellbeing. The chance to be in a supportive, loving relationship is something we all deserve, and studies have shown that those of us with strong social connections tend to live happier, longer, even healthier lives.
A relationship doesn’t have to be a romantic one with a partner, though these understandably take a central place in many of our lives. Positive, healthy relationships can come in many forms – the ones we have with our parents or children, siblings, grandparents, colleagues, friends. Each of these has its own value, but some will naturally be stronger than others. And, no matter how positive they seem, every relationship takes work. So, what is it you should be aiming for? What are the key ingredients of a healthy bond?
1. The Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship
There’s no one definition of a healthy relationship. However, psychologists and relationship experts broadly agree on a few key characteristics that are essential to forming a positive, lasting bond. They include:
- Honest, effective communication
- Kindness and affection
- Maintaining personal identity and happiness
- Shared values
- Communicating and respecting boundaries
- Mutual support
- Trust and commitment
- The ability to compromise
Many of them will seem quite obvious, but often – depending on our personal situation – one or more of these elements can end up taking a back seat. While they don’t need overthinking, it’s good to be mindful of what makes a positive relationship. Now and again you might feel the need to take a step back, analyse and reset.
2. Build Relationships on Effective Communication
Perhaps the most fundamental element in creating healthy relationships is effective communication. Particularly when it comes to our romantic partners, open and honest communication is vital, but at times it can be surprisingly hard to maintain this channel. It’s important to remember that as much as we may feel we know another person, none of us can be expected to know what’s going on in their head. Nor can they know what’s going on in ours.
Effective communication means being clear and honest about our feelings, and willing to share our needs, thoughts and fears. It also means listening carefully to the other person as they tell us these things. Establishing an effective basis for communication allows us to add other ingredients to our relationships, like humour, compromise and discussion of shared values. It helps us show support to the other person, particularly if they’re going through a hard time. And it’s tied to the incredibly important need to set and respect boundaries, which leads into the next key element.
3. Maintain Your Identity Within a Relationship
Healthy relationships rely on two people working together to create a partnership. But in order to do this effectively, it’s crucial that each one maintains a strong sense of self. When we talk about toxic relationships, jealousy, possessiveness and other controlling behaviours are warning signs to watch out for. In healthy relationships, the opposite is true: each person should be able to maintain their own beliefs, hobbies, friendships and values without encroaching on the other person’s or feeling the need to change.
In fact, experts suggest that taking time out from our relationships – particularly romantic partnerships – can help make them stronger and healthier. Spending even just an hour on a favourite hobby, or taking an evening to practise self-care, helps us to reset, retain our sense of individuality, and give ourselves the space we need to grow as a person. It’s vital to remember that while good relationships can bring us great joy, they can never be solely responsible for our happiness. The convention of calling spouses or life partners our ‘other half’ is misleading. Each of us is a whole person in our own right, and a healthy relationship consists of two wholes, not two halves.
4. Relationships Need Respect and Affection
Because of this, one more ingredient is vital for a healthy and lasting relationship: mutual respect. If you know who you are as a person and can communicate that effectively, you’ll give other people a chance to show you respect. And, in turn, you can show it to them. A healthy relationship isn’t about seeing eye-to-eye on everything, but understanding someone else’s feelings and beliefs; not judging them, but respecting their thoughts and decisions.
As well as respect, good relationships require characteristics like loyalty, trust, kindness and affection. Kindness can take many forms, from listening fully to one another and helping actively with problems, to small and seemingly random acts, like making a cup of tea or paying a compliment. Not only do things like this help deepen and strengthen relationships, but studies have shown that acts of kindness can have a positive impact on our own mental wellbeing. And, as we’ve just seen, boosting personal happiness is another way to make our relationships healthier. A win-win situation.
The Recipe for Healthy Relationships
Of course, we know there are many more ingredients that go into a good relationship. It can feel hard to balance all these aspects successfully, but it’s important to remember there’s always a degree of give and take. In any relationship, one person will sometimes need more support than the other. That’s OK. External circumstances and our own state of wellbeing will naturally impact our relationships, but healthy ones are there to help us weather these storms.
There are plenty of things you can do, either individually or with another person, to make sure your relationships are healthy and positive. In the AIME app you’ll find a range of resources, from a guided journey on how to grow as a couple, to worksheets for monitoring romantic relationships and, more generally, relationships and communication. And because good communication is such a key element of a healthy relationship, AIME can also help you with a guided journey on how to communicate effectively.
Finally, a small but positive habit for building healthy relationships is to practise gratitude – daily, if you can. Nobody is perfect, and no relationship ever will be either. Recognising and accepting this is the very best place to start.