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The 4 Things That Define a Healthy Relationship

December 06, 2018

By Magdalena Spariosu, M.D.

Ask your mom, and she might have one answer. Ask a friend, and he’ll have another answer. Ask a coworker, and yet again you might get a different response. There are always going to be varying opinions on what defines a healthy relationship, but many of them are just that…opinions.

From a behavioral health viewpoint, research shows us that there are certain things that truly define a healthy relationship – whether that is a romantic relationship or a friendship.

Here are four things that define a healthy relationship:

You Feel Confident in the Relationship

Do you regularly feel good about yourself since you’ve established this relationship? Does the other person lift you up? Of course, feeling good about yourself is always important – not just when you’re in a relationship or developing friendships. However, if you’ve gone from feeling confident to beaten down because of a particular relationship, it could mean it’s time to let it go.

Your Partner or Friend Fulfills Your Needs

This may sound obvious, but let’s dig into this a little more. Our childhood dictates a lot about how we behave as adults – but also about how we expect to be treated by others as adults, too. According to findings from researchers James Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, the way our needs were met when we were children will determine how we believe we’re to be loved when we’re adults. Not only that, their research also showed our childhood determines how we treat others when we’ve reached adulthood.For example, if as a child you became conditioned to receive love through affection, as an adult, affection is likely one of the primary needs you will have in a romantic relationship. If your partner or friend is not meeting those deep-seated needs – and likewise, if you’re unable to meet your partner’s needs based on how you believe others should be treated – the relationship may be leaning in an unhealthy way.

You’re Able to Spend Time Apart

Creating boundaries with your partner or in a friendship is an important aspect of having a healthy relationship. Those in a healthy relationship are able to enjoy time on their own, separate from the other person in the relationship. This means you should be able to spend time with other friends or family members and participate in hobbies you enjoy. All the while, you should be respectful of your partner or friend’s interests – and the time they spend apart from you. What we find is that this then makes the time you’re spending together in the relationship that much better and more meaningful. You’re also going to be able to appreciate that together time that much more and it even leads to higher levels of intimacy in romantic relationships.

You Argue From Time to Time

You might have heard over and over throughout your lifetime that arguing in a relationship is bad. The reality is that arguing, itself, is not a negative thing. Rather, the way in whichyou argue determines whether it’s healthy or not. This means limiting behaviors such as yelling or shouting and instead having calm and rationale conversations where each person is able to express their feelings openly and honestly. Ultimately, too, the ability to compromise is vital to a healthy relationship.

So, why should we care about having a healthy relationship?

Maybe you’re in a relationship right now that doesn’t match to any of the above. But, you deeply care about the other person – and despite everything that might be telling you otherwise – you want to make the relationship work. Stop for a moment and think of it this way: If your relationship is not a healthy one, you can be missing out on all of the benefits of a healthy relationship, which include improved mental health, better well-being and decreased rates of mortality.

Dr. Spariosu is the interim chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center. To learn more about Behavioral Health Services at Hackensack Meridian Health, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org/BehavioralHealth.

References:

Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. A Century of Developmental Psychology., 431-471.

Erol, R. Y., & Orth, U. (2013). Actor and partner effects of self-esteem on relationship satisfaction and the mediating role of secure attachment between the partners. Journal of Research in Personality, 47(1), 26-35.

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2000). The Timing of Divorce: Predicting When a Couple Will Divorce Over a 14-Year Period. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(3), 737-745

Jiang, L. C., & Hancock, J. T. (2013). Absence Makes the Communication Grow Fonder: Geographic Separation, Interpersonal Media, and Intimacy in Dating Relationships. Journal of Communication, 63(3), 556-577.

Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(1_suppl).

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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