How do you know if your relationship is a healthy one?
The general rule of thumb is that a relationship is as healthy as can be when both partners feel secure and safe with each other.
Both partners need to know that they can turn to each other if they need something and that they can be assured that their partner will be emotionally available and responsive when they express what they need.
If this simple expectation can be felt as a certainty for both partners, the relationship will be secure, and subsequently strong.
Secure couples show the following characteristics, which we can take as the signs that your relationship is healthy:
1. They are better able to retain their emotional balance
Because they feel secure with each other, partners in a strong relationship are less prone to become flooded with anxiety or anger when they feel disconnected from each other. Because they know they can ask for what they need and feel certain that they will reconnect in the future, secure partners are less likely to feel threatened by the absence of each other, and are less likely to pick fights. They are also better able to listen to each other without becoming defensive, because they don’t fear that their partner bringing up issues, might mean that they could leave each other or stop loving each other.
2. They are better able to tune into emotions and express what they need
Strong couples are good communicators. They don’t believe that no communication is a sign that everything is fine. They realize that a relationship is a bond that needs frequent attention and care, and that it is enhanced, not threatened, by talking about needs and wants. Because communication is frequent, partners don’t bottle up their feelings, and don’t explode in anger when they have finally reached their limit. Knowing that they can always come to each other with their concerns, makes them better able to tune into what they are really feeling, and better able to express what they feel without feeling anxious, or doing it in such a way that it comes across as critical or accusatory.
3. They are better able to remain open and flexible
Because secure couples give each other the benefit of the doubt, they don’t immediately jump to negative conclusions about their partner’s intentions. Instead of simply getting swept away by catastrophic thinking and mistaking their own emotional reactions for accurate reflections of reality, they are able to push the pause button, and reflect on their interactions more. Instead of simply getting back into an old argument, they are able to step back to look at the big picture and take a “meta-perspective” on the situation. A meta-perspective is a perspective on one’s perspective. It is like stepping back to watch one’s interactions with one’s partner like a third person who is watching what is going on. When couples can do this, they are better able to talk to each other about their relationship patterns without assigning blame to the other person.
4. They are better able to maintain a positive view of themselves
When partners feel secure with each other, the are less likely to feel bad about themselves and to lose their sense of worth or esteem in moments when they feel disconnected. They are not as likely to worry that they are unlovable or that their partner is going to leave them, or to feel that they are failures because their partner is angry at them. Because they maintain a basic sense of self-esteem and worth even in moments of disagreements, they are less likely to feel threatened by their partners reactions, and better able to stay engaged without becoming angry, sad, or withdrawn.
5. They are better able to be alone and focus on other things
When partners are unsafe or insecure in their relationships, the relationship becomes their predominant concern at all times. However, when you know that your partner can always be reached when you need them, you can feel much more comfortable being away from each other and engaged in other things. You are no longer threatened by your partner’s individuality and are able to enjoy the time you spend alone. When you don’t have to doubt your importance to your partner, you no longer need to cling to each other, but can venture out into the world as someone who feels assured that they are loved and know that they can always return for comfort and support when they need it.
So there you have it: my list of signs that your relationship is secure. The good news is that if you are not quite there yet, it is never too late to begin to build a stronger and more secure connection. With some concerted effort, even couples who have felt disconnected for a long time, can regain their sense of security and begin to build a stronger and more fulfilling relationship.
About me: I am Rune Moelbak, Ph.D., a couples therapist in Houston, TX who helps couple restore safety and trust in their relationships. To read more about my approach to couples therapy, please visit my website.