5 Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship

bids for connection boundaries communication repair
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We all want to be in a healthy relationship, but how? What are some practical steps we can take to avoid toxicity or break a negative cycle, and instead foster intimacy, contentment, and mutual growth?

Let’s walk through five sure-fire ways to find yourself in a long-lasting, thriving relationship

1. Practice Differentiation
We want a compatible relationship, yes. We want a unified relationship, absolutely. But what we don’t want is to lose our sense of individuality.

You may have heard the terms “codependent” or “fusion,” which are the opposite of differentiation. If your life is fused together with your partner in a codependent manner, your ability to regulate your own emotions, needs, and interests becomes hazy or nonexistent. In this model of behavior, you cannot thrive individually or relationally because you’ve lost sight of what makes you happy–instead, you’re something of an amoeba, altering who you are and how you feel based on the opinions or mood of your partner.

If the goal is for two people to be deeply fulfilled in their lives and their relationship, then what we need is differentiation. A healthy relationship reflects the satisfaction of both partners as individuals. Allowing for differentiation gives each partner not only the ability to pursue their own needs and be the keeper of their own actions and reactions, but also gives the other person the opportunity to show compassion and support in a way that fosters trust and thoughtfulness. When we see our partner for who they are as an individual, then empathize and care for them accordingly, that’s where respect, understanding, and romanticism grows.

2. Create Boundaries
Relationships are full of give and take. Healthy relationships define that give and take. How much can you give in a certain area before resentment creeps in? Before burnout paralyzes you? Before emotional expenditure leaves you hopeless? Identifying the line that cannot be crossed protects each person before the wheels start falling off. If vocalized ahead of time, it gives us permission to instate the boundary during a difficult moment, or avoid that difficult moment altogether.

Setting boundaries in the relationship is an excellent opportunity to gain insight into your partner’s perspectives and needs, while having the chance to share your own. After all–as I mentioned with differentiation–relationships are comprised of unique individuals with distinct lines drawn for their own emotional, intellectual, and physical wellbeing.

3. Prioritize Repairing
We are human, so we’re going to mishandle conflict from time to time. We’ll raise our voice, withdraw, or engage in a long list of less-than-ideal behaviors with our partner. A healthy relationship doesn’t mean a perfect one, and repairing is the key. How we handle communication after conflict is almost as important as how we communicate during the clash.

I want you and your partner to get back on the same team. Apologizing, taking responsibility for your own behavior, and validating their feelings are excellent starting points. Your feelings matter, too, so sharing (without attacking) the trigger or unmet need which flared into conflict can breed vulnerability and mitigate future quarrels. Circling back to repair the relationship after a tear– be it big or small– sets healthy couples apart.

Be sure to check out my free masterclass on how to repair. I give you four simple steps on how to feel close again after the fight.

4. Set Expectations
Too often, we fall into the trap of assumptions. We assume our partner knows what we want from them. They “should” know that leaving their socks on the bathroom floor is unacceptable. They “should” help with the dishes. They “should” wake up with the crying toddler at night.

Unspoken expectations are a recipe for disappointment. It is our responsibility to share our desires and wishes, and our implicit assumptions and needs.

If you get past the “I shouldn’t have to say anything” mindset and instead are willing to make a plan, you’ll be amazed at the results. Resentment truly can start to wane.

One of the ways I encourage my clients to connect with their partners is through a weekly meeting. At the beginning of the week, set aside a window of time to review your schedule, divvy up responsibilities, offer gentle reminders for menial expectations (like those pesky socks), and make a plan for a successful week ahead. 

5. Acknowledge Bids for Connection
Dr. John Gottman, esteemed research psychologist, conducted a study that followed newlyweds through the first six years of marriage. After observing those who remained married and those who divorced, Gottman categorized the couples as “Masters” or “Disasters.” Masters remained married and acknowledged bids for connection (or “turned towards” their partner) 86% of the time. In contrast, Disasters were divorced and only turned towards 33% of the time.

What is a bid for connection, exactly? How do we “turn towards”? According to the Gottman Institute, a bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection.

A bid can be as small as asking if they like your outfit, telling a story about an annoying coworker, or an invitation to walk the dog. Anything that can elicit a response is a bid– an opportunity for one partner to show interest and involvement in the other’s life. Healthy relationships aren’t just about the depth of communication– they can be developed just as much through simply paying attention.

When we invite intentionality into our worlds, we can begin to see that creating a healthy, long lasting relationship doesn’t require us to spend hours traveling away or having long date nights out. It is the small frequent moments where two people continuously choose each other.

Ready To Change?

Learn alongside with me in my new book, I Didn’t Sign Up For This: A Couples Therapist Shares Real Life Stories of Healing Wounds and Finding Joy in Relationships… Including Her Own. Through stories of 4 couples inside my therapy office, filled with practical, therapeutic advice allowing you to assess your own relationship, you will learn how to work through conflict and build healthy interdependence. I share the root of the issues that fuel our day-to-day relationship conflicts and illuminates the common struggle of what it means to be human: the incredible difficulty of showing up wholly and authentically in our most intimate relationship with others and with ourselves. As a thank you for preordering, I'll be sending you exclusive book bonuses to help you continue to grow - for yourself and for your relationship!