We all desire a healthy, happy, romantic relationship. But what, exactly, does that look like? What exactly are the characteristics of a good relationship?
Unfortunately, many of us have no idea. Maybe our personal baggage is to blame. Or maybe we watch far too many toxic, twisted relationships on TV. Bottom line: we’re exposed to a ton of unhealthy relationships, which often makes it difficult for us to recognize when a healthy relationship enters our lives.
We talked with individual and couples therapist Irina Firstein, LCSW, on the key characteristics of a good relationship and how to identify, and implement, them.
1. It’s Romantic
If Pinterest is any indication, ideally, you want to date and marry your “best friend,” but what distinguishes a relationship from a regular friendship is the romance. Good relationships don’t skimp on the romance while you’re figuring out life together.
“A good relationship is a romantic partnership,” says Firstein. “What this means is that two people are able to be partners in life and the tasks and undertakings that life presents to them. They can work together on projects, share same or similar goals, complement each other in accomplishing things that need to be done and take into account their abilities.”
She adds, “With that, there is great importance placed on romance and erotic connection between them. This manifests in a satisfying sexual relationship and high premium on fun and romantic activities and gestures, like surprise spontaneous plans, gifts, and activities.”
Whatever romance looks like to you and your partner—sweet Post-its on the fridge or flirty texts while you’re work—hone in on it and try to inject it into your relationship everyday.
2. You Care About Each Other
Jim Rohn once said, “One person caring about another represents life’s greatest value,” which pretty much defines a good, healthy relationship.
“In a good relationship there is genuine caring and concern about the other’s well being and joy in their life,” says Firstein. “You want your partner to feel good and happy as much as is realistic and possible. This is important to both partners in regards to each other.”
For example, when you argue, you still have a sense that your partner cares about your feelings and opinions. Or, when your partner has a bad day, you do everything you can to cheer them up, even if that means just listening to them as they vent. You both are invested in each other’s happiness, and it shows.
3. The Communication is Amazing
Both partners are able to speak freely about their feelings, thoughts and opinions, and feel incredibly supported when doing so.
“You can talk about anything and everything and be listened to, hopefully understood and, when needed, comforted,” says Firstein. “It is very important to feel that your partner has your back and your best interests at heart.”
This is especially true during rough patches, as well as the “good” times in a relationship. Repressing feelings will only cause conflict later on so making sure you know how to talk to your partner is one of the most important characteristics of a good relationship.
4. Vulnerability is Seen as a Strength
Being completely vulnerable with your partner can feel jarring, but it might very well be the glue that holds your relationship together.
“It is important to be able to expose most personal, even shameful or just vulnerable feelings to your partner and be ‘held’ and not ridiculed, rejected or further shamed for the feelings expressed,” says Firstein. “Some of this may include insecurity about the attachment or attraction and desirability to your significant other.”
Shame and fear often contribute to power struggles between couples, which can result in big blowups and, ultimately, a breakup. Being able to be vulnerable with your partner allows you to form a more intimate, trusting bond with one another. As Dr. Brene Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly, “To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe that vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is a weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.” Healthy relationships allow both partners to shine authentically and share their innermost feelings and fears without judgment.
5. You Like Each Other
John Lennon said, “All we need is love,” but sometimes we just need to simply like someone, too.
“It is important not only that you love your partner but that you like them as a human being,” says Firstein, “If possible it’s good to admire and respect him or her. This brings a great energy to the connection and often solidifies the bond.” This means that, even if you weren’t together, you would still think your partner is pretty awesome. They make you laugh, they make you want to be a better person, and they’re just super fun to be around because they’re that amazing.
Keep in mind that relationships aren’t stagnant—they’re living and growing things. If your relationship doesn’t have all the characteristics of a good relationship, that doesn’t necessarily mean that things aren’t working out. You might just be working your way there.