YourTango Experts offer insight into what makes healthy relationships tick.
There are endless traits and behaviors that are emblematic of a healthy, fulfilling relationship. Most of us know what they are (even if we forget to practice them!), such as listening to one another, laughing together, using humor (especially during arguments), having regular sex, going on dates and so on. We've targeted 9 habits that couples with truly awesome relationships have in common. Check them out and see where you shine and where you could use some work (remember: no one is perfect):
1. You look out for the other person.
When both parties look out for one another, the results are profound, primarily because it creates a basis of trust that is the relationship's bedrock. When you know someone has your back, it gives you tremendous security and frees you from chronic thoughts of doubt and uncertainty that can otherwise plague relationships. This strong sense of trust and dedication to your partner's well-being is the greatest gift we can give to our partners.
2. You take the high road.
Let's face it. Sometimes you want to get back at your partner because he or she has hurt you. Even in the best relationships, hurt and disappointment are inevitable. The magic is in how couples manage such things. Relationships where each individual has the maturity and ability to take the long-term view and strive to treat the other well are much better off than those where partners act on each emotional impulse or every perceived infraction.
Taking the high road takes great strength and thoughtfulness. It often feels more rewarding in the moment to give in to melancholy, vindictiveness, anger or a host of other negative expressions. Taking the high road means actively putting your best foot forward—even when you would rather pout or wallow or exact revenge (even in small petty ways).
3. You know that some conflict is normal and expected.
Contrary to what some may think, a healthy relationship doesn't mean you're happy 100 percent of the time. You will argue from time to time—occasional conflict is actually healthy! It's the natural by-product of two different human beings living in close relationship with one another. Instead of just avoiding arguments, healthy couples know how to handle them when they inevitably do come up. Research shows that this knowledge has everything to do with how long-lasting your relationship will be. Damaging patterns such as one partner "pursuing" while the other is "distancing" have been shown to have a negative impact on the future of the relationship (as evidenced in a 1994 study of long-term marriages by Levenson, Carstensen, & Gottman).
4. You know how to pick your battles.
Just because conflict is normal doesn't mean you have to go out of your way to have it. Before you say anything, decide if the possible negative effect of a comment is worth saying it in the first place. A good rule of thumb: you've tried, but you just can't let it go. This can be a sign that an unresolved issue has the potential to turn into lasting resentment, and should be openly discussed.
5. You talk so the other is able to listen.
So how do you talk about the tough stuff? Healthy resolution of conflict involves honest and respectful communication, a willingness to look at your own contribution, and the ability to know if you need to take a time-out and come back to it later. If anger comes up, you may need time (20-30 minutes is usually good) to cool so you don't say something in the heat of the moment that you might later regret.
6. You feel free from retaliation or judgment.
Healthy relationships provide a feel-good atmosphere of support, encouragement, teamwork and love. This support and encouragement leads to a higher level of comfort whereby you are able to clearly express yourself without fear of retaliation or judgment.
7. You feel like yourself—your best self.
Healthy relationships align with your core beliefs, convictions and overall chosen style of life. In a healthy relationship, you never have to worry about changing yourself in order make the relationship function. You also never have to worry about losing your partner when you decide to make some changes. There's no need to be someone else, do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, or act in a certain way. You often hear yourself saying or thinking, "This relationship brings out the best in me."
8. Your quality of life is higher because you're together.
Healthy relationships improve your quality of life. Are you growing? Are you wiser? Are you more mature? Have you modified your behaviors into a more positive manner? Has your attitude and overall outlook on your life and goals improved? If you are saying yes to these questions, you are in a healthy relationship.
9. You don't have to be attached at the hip.
Trusting habits are demonstrated in healthy relationships. That means you are not going through her phone, checking his email, having to be by his side everywhere he goes in order to keep an eye on what he's doing. Instead, you are able to freely allow him/her to do whatever he/she wants to do. In return, your time is spent doing what you want to do. And if/when those two wants cross (i.e. you want to spend time with him and he wants to spend time with you)—you'll be together...and that's the bonus. You often hear yourself thinking or saying, "I trust your decision making."
"From my mom and dad, because they're happily married for a long time: Just listen. Listen to him. I'm so independent and driven and stubborn. Just let him talk. It's about not being so stubborn and having to win every argument. My parents set a great example. They love each other and take care of each other so much."
"It's kind of cheesy, but my mama, who you all have seen on the show, says to cook for your man. She's Southern, so when he comes home, be pullin' a pie out of the oven. That's always been her advice, and you know what? It works. Your man wants to see you in the kitchen, puttin' some love into some food; it works for Eric, that's for sure."
"The best advice I've ever been given is being handed a Bible. That's the blueprint for marriage that we go by, and that's what our marriage is grounded in. We also have other married couples who are examples in our lives. My parents have been married over 40 years, and both sets of grandparents for over 65 years. When you see couples in long-term relationships and you see them go through good times and bad times, you realize it's about being committed enough and loving your partner enough to hang in there regardless."
"My mom told me, "It shouldn't be that difficult." My parents had their moments for sure, but the majority of their relationship has been really great. It shouldn't be that much work to make love work."
"You've got to be good to each other … it really comes back to respect. I was raised in a very Catholic, Italian family and it was all about respect. Don't talk badly about [your partner] the second they walk out the door; really preserve your relationship and be good to each other. Treat it like gold."
"Don't lie to your partner. Ultimately the expression on your face gives you away, and they feel betrayed by the lie. If this is the person you're going to be with—forever and ever, for better or worse—they will love you for all of your good and all of your bad. They'll love you for you. So open communication is key. I have no secrets and no skeletons in my closet with my husband, and I love that. I feel comfortable and at ease with myself when I'm around him. I love the woman that I've become with him."
"I think the best love advice I've ever received is really about understanding that communication is key, of course, but also that there's not one perfect person for you. You kind of have to accept what are the things that are negotiable for you and what are not."
"My mom always told me, "Whatever happens, will happen" or 'Whatever is supposed to happen, will happen." I've learned you'll know when you find the right person. When I found the right person, I knew it immediately."
18. The Five Love Languages Author Dr. Gary Chapman
"Before I discovered the concept of the 5 love languages, a bit of advice I was given was to become a student of my wife and to take time to learn what makes her feel loved. I soon learned that what makes her feel loved may not always be the thing I want to do because it may not come natural to me. But learning to love her in the way that makes her feel loved is a greater demonstration of my love for her, because I've chosen to do it with a goal of pleasing her."
"Pay attention to the girl, instead of myself. A bunch of people [told me that]. It's terrible. I'm very into myself, so people are always like, "Pay attention to the other person. Don't ever separate yourself." It's a good lesson. I'm learning. I'm doing good."
"Don't get divorced after your first argument! I have a lot of friends that have one fight and that's it, they get divorced. I go, 'Wait a minute! Oh my gosh, you guys! Calm down! You'll forget in three days what you were fighting about. I promise. So just let it marinate a little bit—that's my best love advice."
21. The Real Housewives of Miami's Adriana de Moura
"When I was about 15, [my grandmother] said something I will always remember: 'Love comes before money.' I will never let anything like greed come between us when it comes to love. She was married to my grandfather for 70 years. It's very hard to have a long-term relationship and if you're not sure, it's not going to last. Make sure that you truly love."
"If you're looking for love, focus on something you love to do and work hard. Love will find you. Basically, love yourself before you love anyone else. A lot of girls have such insecurities nowadays that you have to be comfortable with who you are before you can really have a good relationship with someone else."
"Love advice is like life advice, so there are so many elements of that. I think humor, patience, admiration are really important love elements. Love and respect. You have to respect the person that you're going to love, and you have to be confident in yourself and love yourself."
'Think about how much you'd miss that if he were gone tomorrow.' This is my senior producer's advice in my ear during our news show if I'm grumbling about my hubby, whether about his habit of leaving dirty clothes around, or the way he goes into la la land while I'm talking with him, or that he wakes me up being loud overnight. How true! Heaven forbid, but if something ever happens to our loved ones, oh how we'd long for them to be back, and their little aggravating habits would be something cherished.
"On the other hand the best love advice I've ever given is: Gals, don't marry someone for their looks. Sooner or later we all age and start to droop. Don't marry someone for their position and don't marry someone for money. Money comes and goes, and since when is that love? Marry someone because they make you laugh. Humor is always sexy. Besides, it's awfully hard to get mad at someone while they're making you laugh."
30. The Real Housewives of New York's Heather Thomson
"Well, it's one of the oldest. It really is paradoxical, but it's true: You just can't go to bed mad. You have to make up, because there's only one alternative, and that alternative is not being together. So, my husband and I always decide we might as well make up, whether we agree to disagree or not. We understand we are individuals and that together we're unbelievably powerful and that we have a family that is the most important thing, and that I wouldn't trade him for the world. So, love is about give and take, and love is about understanding that you're individuals and together as a couple, you're the strongest there ever is ifyou're in the right couple."
"I was going to say, 'It's work, relationships take work,' but that makes it sound like relationships are hard, that they're work. Rebecca and I have always gotten along really well. We've always had a really strong connection. I'm the last guy that should be giving people advice on love, that's for sure. But I have a great marriage. I just got lucky, I guess."
"I lost my dad back in the fall, and my dad said something to me a long time ago. He said, 'Are you happy with who you are now?' because we just had a real serious talk. And I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Then you can't regret what got you to where you are. So whatever you do and whatever mistakes you make, learn from them and grow. And just always treat people with kindness,' which I've tried to do."
"My mom always used to say, "You can't say I love you before you can say I." And I think that sort of makes sense."