Characteristics of an Emotionally Healthy Relationship

I have been specializing in working with couples for over 30 years.  Over time I have come to find that emotionally gratifying relationships share common traits.

Below I will list 6 of the traits and you can score yourself from 1 to 10 (10 being strong and 1 being weak on that trait).  I’ll limit it to 6 traits so that 60 would be the highest score you can achieve.

Rate your relationship from 1 to 10 on each trait of a healthy relationship:

  1.  Friendship:  Over the many, many years of working with couples I would say this is the most important aspect of an emotionally gratifying relationship.  Are you your partner’s best friend?  Do you treat your partner like a friend?  For example, are you generally supportive of your partner?  Do you demonstrate this by being a good listener? (A  non-defensive listener, a curious listener) Do you hold confidence within your relationship (by not taking complaints to friends/family, but rather bringing them directly to your partner? Are you generally non-critical of your partner? Do you demonstrate this by focusing on seeing the glass half full rather than half empty.  Our partners generally have a vast array of positive traits – are you able to focus on those rather than the traits that irritate you or disappoint you?
  2. Goodwill and respect:  This can be one of the first things to go when there have been hurts and disappointments that have not been adequately processed or we have not felt heard or understood by our partner.  I try to increase this feeling of goodwill by encouraging couples to engage in a practice called the Daily Double (developed by Peter Pearson, Ph.D.).  Each person is challenged to verbalize two appreciations per day (minimum of) to their partner.  In addition, it is important to say what the appreciation meant to the speaker.  For example:  “Honey, thank you for cleaning up the kitchen last night when I had to go out!  I feel so loved and cared for when you do that.  I hope you got the kids to help you!” And so often we have positive thoughts about our partner but we neglect to share them out loud!
  3. Teamwork:  This is related to goodwill and respect.  Do I treat my partner like my teammate, a valuable member of our team.  Do I think about including them when there is a task to be accomplished?  Have we made a list of roles and responsibilities for managing the house/children and decided who will be responsible for which tasks?  Do I keep my agreements and complete the tasks I have chosen?  Am I flexible when my partner needs support and I have to complete something they can’t do that go-round?  Running a household/family is almost like running a business and couples need regular family meetings to see how everyone is doing and what support they need to help the household function smoothly.  In my own marriage, I know now that I carried too much household responsibility and would have been a lot happier if I had asked for more help and more teamwork!
  4. Communication: Couples so often come in with this as the presenting problem.  How would you rate your relationship in terms of constructive problem-solving or conflict resolution?  Conversations can go South quickly when we are triggered emotionally by past hurts or past traumas.  How well do I manage my own emotional reactivity when we are able to have tough conversations?  How willing am I to risk bringing up a topic when I anticipate a conflict or strong emotions on my partner’s part? How well do I stay current with my partner with issues when they arise?  I teach couples a very structured way to have better conversations in my office than the ones they have been able to have at home.  They take this skill with them when they finish their therapy.
  5. Emotional connection:  Do you feel close emotionally to your partner? Is there a level of trust that allows you to be emotionally vulnerable with your partner?  Do you take risks emotionally?  How well do you respond to your partner’s need for emotional connection?  Do you take time away from the daily grind to just be together having fun and sharing a pleasurable experience.  A standard homework assignment for couples therapy is date night (and taking turns planning the event).  It can be as simple as taking a walk and going for ice cream or coffee. I always say that a relationship is like a garden and it takes constant nourishment and attention. These bonding activities also strengthen the foundation of trust in your relationship.
  6. Trust:  Trust is foundational to a secure relationship.  When I make an agreement, do I keep it?  Do we make clear agreements with each other?  Am I transparent with my partner; am I vulnerable to sharing my true feelings?  Do we have frequent pleasurable experiences as a couple and as a family?  These experiences help bond couples together and contribute to a secure feeling about your commitment to each other.

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