How to Build a Healthy Relationship

Healthy relationships allow you to express your individuality (both with and without your partner), bring out the best in both of you, and encourage growth.[1] Especially if you are in a new relationship, it’s best to set a foundation for a positive and healthy relationship from the start. By setting your focus on respect and helpful communication, you can enjoy a healthy and satisfying relationship.

Communicating Effectively

1. Speak up. Don't expect your partner to be able to read your mind or “figure it out.” If you have a need or want to express something, you need to communicate it yourself.[2] It’s not fair to you or your partner when you don’t communicate your needs. Likewise, don’t hold in the things that bother you. If something is bothering you, say something to your partner.[3]
If you don’t know how to start a conversation, say, “There’s something on my mind and I’d like it if you listened.” You can also say, “Something is bothering me and I feel like we should talk about it.”

2. Listen intently. Part of a healthy relationship is knowing when to talk and when to listen. Develop your listening skills by not interrupting and letting your partner finish their thoughts and feelings. Truly listen, and don’t try to come up with a response while your partner is talking.[4]
Use active listening skills by reflecting the content and emotions of what your partner is saying. Say, “Let me make sure I understand. I hear you saying that you’re upset that I didn’t tell you what time I would be home, and you wish I would have said something earlier because you were concerned.”[5]

3. Create healthy boundaries. Boundaries are not meant to make you feel trapped; they are created to maintain respect and understand expectations in the relationship.[6] If something makes you feel uncomfortable, bring it up and discuss how things need to change and how each of you will make changes. If one person wants to spend lots of time together and the other does not, it’s important to set a boundary of how much time is appropriate together and apart.
For example, you may want to create sexual boundaries (being sexually exclusive) and social boundaries (having one night a week designated for friends or activities).
Don’t let your partner control you and don’t set out to control your partner. Setting boundaries means respecting each other and finding compromises to make the relationship work well.

4.  Communicate clearly. Without clear communication, a relationship can quickly bring out the worst in people. When you have a want or a need, express it to your partner clearly. Don’t beat around the bush or say something you think will please your partner when it makes you unhappy. Try using “I statements” to express your feelings, make an observation, or share your opinion. I statements allow you to express yourself clearly and directly and take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings while avoiding blame and accusations toward others.[7]
To properly communicate, say, “ I think/feel/want…. when….. because….” For example, “I feel upset when you leave the door open because the room gets cold and drafty.”

5. Express emotions. Share your thoughts and feelings with your partner and stay open to the feelings that arise. Show interest in your partner’s feelings and support them during stressful situations. Connecting emotionally with your partner allows you to empathize with their experience.[8]
If you’re feeling emotionally disconnected from your partner, start asking questions about feelings (and don’t blame or make assumptions). By discovering your partner’s feelings, you may begin to feel more compassion toward them.

6. Check in with each other. Make time periodically to discuss the relationship. Sometimes changes occur or schedules become busy and you may miss time to connect or talk about things. You may want to bring up relationship goals and expectations, as these can sometimes change. Ignoring difficult topics or hoping they will go away is one way for a relationship to crumble.[9]
An example of checking in could be, "Hey, are you ok after our disagreement yesterday? I just wanted to make sure there weren't any leftover feelings or things we didn't resolve."
Ask your partner if you are on the same page in terms of relationship expectations. You may discuss moving in together, sexual satisfaction, marriage, children, or plans to move. Be clear on what you want and how your partner fits in with that.

Treating Each Other Well

1. Create a foundation of respect. Relationships can be fun and exciting early on, yet it important to make sure that you and your partner are rooted in respect. Act in ways that demand respect from your partner.[10] Strive to treat each other with respect at all times, even when you are mad at each other.
Your partner’s wishes, thoughts, and feelings have value. Communicate to your partner that you consider the way they feel. Mutual respect is an important part of making a healthy relationship work.[11]
Talk to your partner about creating respect in your relationship. Decide “do’s” and “don’ts,” such as name calling or sexual touch.
You may wish to implement "fair fighting" rules. They are as follows:[12]
  • No degrading language
  • No blaming
  • No yelling
  • No use of force
  • No talk of divorce/breaking up
  • Don't try to tell your partner what they are thinking/experiencing/feeling
  • Stay in the present
  • Take turns speaking
  • Use time outs with necessary

2. Appreciate each other. A healthy relationship should be one in which you and your partner feel appreciated. Often, relationships are built from many small things added one on top of the other. Find the things your partner does for you and say “thank you.” Instead of focusing on mistakes your partner makes, focus on the ways your partner adds to your life.[13] When you notice something, speak out and show your appreciation.
Ask your partner how they like to feel appreciated. Write a note or a card, or make an effort to say “thank you” often.
Let your partner know how you like to be appreciated. Say, “It means a lot to me when you notice the things I do for you.”

3. Spend quality time together. It’s easy to transition from face-to-face time together to digital communication. Yet, sometimes meanings can get lost in translation or non-verbal communication becomes non-existent. Spending quality time together can help strengthen your relationship and increase the bond you and your partner feel together.[14]
Find activities that you can do together regularly. It can be as simple as enjoying a cup of coffee together each morning or reading together at night.
Trying something new together can be a fun and exciting way to spend time together. You don’t have to do anything crazy — even going out to dinner at a new restaurant or trying a new cuisine can be a fun experience.

Give each other space. No one person can fulfill everything and every role for another person. Let your partner have time with friends and family and engage in hobbies. It’s important for each person to have their own friends and activities that are enjoyed on their own. While you may want to spend every moment together during the beginning of the relationship, respect each other enough to spend time apart and know that time spent apart doesn’t mean anything negative for the relationship. Support your partner in maintaining friendships.[15]
Avoid giving up your friends or pressuring your partner to give up friends. It’s important to have friends and the emotional support they provide. Likewise, don’t allow your partner to dictate whether or not you can see your family.

Expect changes. Know that your relationship will likely change. Allow growth for yourself, your partner, and for the relationship itself. Recognize that changes in your relationship are opportunities for new growth. Change is inevitable, so welcome changes and accept that the relationship will adapt.[16]
When changes happen, take a deep breath and deal with them one by one.

Part3Improving an Unhealthy Relationship

See a therapist. If you’re caught in unhealthy patterns and want to improve them, ask your partner to see a therapist together. A therapist can help you break unhealthy patterns you may feel trapped in, such as yelling, blaming, isolating, making assumptions, and not communicating effectively. It can also help with emotional avoidance, modifying behavior, and changing the views you have of your relationship.[17] Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed — it means you’re willing to work together to improve it.
For more information, check out How to Attend Couples Counseling.

2. Let go of codependency. Dysfunctional behavior in a codependent relationship can look like one person supporting or enabling the other person’s irresponsibility, immaturity, addiction, or poor health. If you are the enabler, you may feel guilty if you don’t help, even if you know it hurts your partner in the long run. [18] Codependency is often rooted in childhood and may involve repressed feelings (not speaking up when you have a need, keeping quiet to avoid a fight) and an inability to say “no.”
You and your partner may isolate from other people and not have friends outside of your relationship.
Educate yourself about codependency and spend some time identifying your (or your partner’s) self-defeating behaviors.[19] You may want to work with an individual or couple’s therapist.
Check out How to Tell if You Are Codependent to learn more.

3. Respect your partner’s privacy. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to spend every moment together or share everything. [20] Respect your partner’s need for privacy and space. If jealousy comes up, remind yourself that jealousy is something you feel that may not be directly related to your partner’s actions.
Don’t demand your partner’s passwords to social media accounts or email. Respect your partner’s privacy and be willing to trust your partner.
It’s not healthy for you or your partner to constantly monitor each other’s behaviors. This can be rooted in jealousy or control, which are not healthy components to bring into a relationship.

4. Note warning signs of abuse. Relationships should be built on respect and equality, not power and control. While you may not think much of some behaviors at first, disrespectful behaviors set a tone in a relationship. If your partner is possessive, insulting, yelling, humiliating, or disrespectful in any way, take note. There is no excuse for abuse. Abuse is a choice that an individual makes and you do not have to be the victim.[21]
For more information, check out How to Recognize a Potentially Abusive Relationship.

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