During stressful times, relationships can be tested. The coronavirus has caused us to spend more time than ever with our loved ones at home. And while it may be difficult, we are well served by using this time to improve relationships as best we can. The foundation for a lifelong, healthy relationship is built on four things; trust, communication, equality and boundaries.
Trust is an important part of any relationship, whether we’re talking about romantic love, enduring friendships, work friends, or family relationships. When you trust someone, you believe them to be reliable, you feel safe around them both physically and emotionally. It’s easy to share both your dreams and disappointments with someone you trust. You know they will be there for you, without judgment. Trust does not happen automatically. It is created gradually, over time and across a series of interactions.
As relationships progress, it’s always good to spend some time thinking about them. Here are some questions to ask yourself to gauge trust in a relationship;
Are we both there for each other, not just physically but emotionally? Is your partner sensitive to your needs, problems and worries? Are you sensitive to your partner in the same way? Do you genuinely care about each other?
Is our trust consistent? Do the same relationship rules apply equally to the both of you? Is your partner consistent in showing you respect: Showing up for dates on time and as agreed? Keeping confidences private and respecting boundaries?
Do both partners do what you say you will do? Do your words and actions match?
Trust means that both partners can maintain relationships with friends and family without worry or fear the other will become jealous or suspicious. You each should be able to enjoy time alone to pursue the things you enjoy.
Open, honest communication is critical to a healthy relationship. In its simplest form, communication is the exchange of thoughts and emotions. Communication allows people to develop enduring bonds, to understand each other by common language built on words, non-verbal behaviors and shared experience.
In a healthy relationship, both partners enjoy the benefits of communication by treating each other with respect; speaking openly about their thoughts and feelings. Individuals feel they are being understood when the communicate.
Good communication is not critical, hurtful or angry. It is thoughtful and provides opportunity to grow the relationship. Talking face-to-face, no matter how difficult it might seem, is usually the best way to communicate. Text messages, emails and letters are often misinterpreted. As humans, much of our communication relies on non-verbal cues like tone of voice and body language. Text messages cannot convey these things, no matter how many emojis you employ.
If your communications are only about the things that are wrong in your relationship, it’s time to flip the script. Partners should have far more conversations about positive things than about negative ones. Search for opportunities to express gratitude, thankfulness and the positive emotions you have toward each other. Celebrate your successes and accomplishments, share your dreams and provide support when things don’t go as planned. Putting something into the well of goodwill makes it easier when hard conversations must be had.
Equality can mean different things to different people. What’s important for relationships in the equality equation is that both partners feel they are equal, however they define it. Building a healthy relationship is impossible if one half of the partnership feels they are not as important as the other.
In an equal relationship, partners make decisions together and hold each other to the same standard. Let’s use finances as an example. Both have equal say when it comes to finances and both have access to the resources they need within agreed-upon limits. Budgeting and managing finances are shared responsibilities while each partner has responsibility for personal funds. In a healthy relationship, both individual’s needs and goals are equally respected in financial decisions, even if one person is the breadwinner.
In a healthy relationship, partners share work equally and make decisions together about key topics like; child care, parenting, budgeting, household chores, vacations and holidays.
Setting boundaries early on helps relationships grow and flourish. As relationships develop, boundaries may evolve, so it’s important each person knows the other’s concerns, limits, feelings and be ready to respect them.
No matter how much you love and care for each other, couples thrive when each partner has time away from the other. If one member of the partnership is controlling the who, what, where, when and how long of the other’s life, it is not a healthy relationship. Everyone should feel free to spend time with friends and family without having to get permission or constantly checking in to explain their whereabouts.
Boundaries are also important when it comes to intimacy. It’s not always easy to have a conversation about sex. But, physical intimacy is a part of any healthy relationship. Select a time to have an honest, open discussion. It is much easier to set boundaries and communicate when you’re not in the heat of the moment.
Need help navigating toward a healthy relationship?
A healthy relationship means you and your partner talk openly about problems and listen to one another. You respect and value each other as you are, not as you hope the other will be. You trust and believe what your partner says. You are equal and on the journey of life together as partners. If you need help with couples counseling contact our 24-Hour Helpline at 1.800.928.8000 to get started.