Ask yourself this: why did you get involved in your love relationship in the first place?
Were you looking for someone you could have a good fight with when you felt like it?
Were you hoping to have someone handy who would meet all of your needs?
Were you looking for someone to have around the house to observe you pouting or withdrawing?
I know these are silly (but telling) questions. Of course we get involved in our love relationship because, well, we fall in love. And attached to those powerful, chemically-driven feelings are the more practical desires for companionship, emotional intimacy, and a sense of belonging and security.
Being in a relationship is a good thing. People who are in a committed relationship live longer, are happier in general, and tend to accumulate more wealth. But if that’s the case, why are relationships so difficult? Why do we argue, belittle, and disengage from the one person we’re supposed to love most?
I find it ironic that we go through extensive training to drive a car and spend years in school to prepare for a career, but there is no expected or required training when it comes to the most important part of our lives — our love relationship. No one teaches us how to be a good partner and how to nurture the health of the relationship. We jump in like blind fools, certain that love will conquer all.
If we’re lucky, we had good role models in our parents. But even so, our particular relationship has it’s own nuances, issues, and unsightly bumps. Once the initial infatuation wears off of a new relationship, we are left with few skills to navigate those bumps and maintain the vitality and joy of the connection.
Over time, many couples wind up in their separate corners, scowling at each other from a distance. This certainly isn’t what we thought would happen when we first stared at him or her across the room and our hearts melted.
The relationship itself is a living, breathing thing that must be nurtured and cared for daily — above our own individual needs or frustrations. It you want your relationship to work, you both must work at your relationship. It can’t be one-sided, and it can’t be neglected.
Here are 10 signs of a good relationship to help you set the foundation for nurturing your own:
1. You make the relationship your top priority.
There is no doubt, your marriage or partnership is THE most valuable part of your life. If it’s not, it should be. It should come before your work, hobbies, extended family, and yes — even before your children. As a couple, you are the centerpiece of your family, and if the couple isn’t strong, the family isn’t strong.
Both partners MUST be committed to putting the relationship as their top life priority. This can’t be just empty words. It has to be acknowledged between the two of you and demonstrated in your daily, even hourly, commitment to keeping the relationship healthy and thriving.
2. You communicate openly and regularly.
You make it a habit to check in with each other every day or every few days to get a pulse on your connection. Both people feel safe and free to express concerns, disappointments, and frustrations, and both of you feel motivated to find resolution or seek compromise when necessary.
You each express your feelings kindly and directly, without using passive aggressive behaviors, manipulation, or stonewalling. You don’t hold things back or shove them under the rug to avoid confrontation. In fact, confrontation isn’t part of your communication style. You are driven to get things back on track because of your love for each other and your deep value of the relationship itself.
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3. You create emotional intimacy.
Emotional intimacy is the closeness you share together. You feel free and secure to express your fears and vulnerabilities without being shamed or demeaned. You have a high level of trust, transparency, and openness between you based on your love for each other and the years of shared experiences.
Emotionally intimate couples can share their deepest selves and are able to express the depth of their feelings for one another. In this context, each person feels wholly accepted, respected, and worthy in the eyes of their partner.
Emotional intimacy can be fostered by becoming more familiar with our own feelings, needs, fears, and desires. We must be self-aware in order to be intimate with another person. Emotional intimacy also requires we spend quality time together, away from daily stress and distractions.
4. You create sexual intimacy.
Emotional intimacy is the foundation for a healthy sexual relationship, and the combination creates a deep bond between two people. When you have emotional intimacy, you are free to express what you desire sexually — and you are free to give fully to the other person.
Sex is not just a physical pleasure or release but rather an expression of your deep love and closeness. Emotional intimacy makes room for play, exploration, and complete safety in the bedroom. You can still have sexual experiences with each other that are primarily physical, but you can do so with the security of the deep emotional connection you share.
5. You spend time together.
You can’t nurture the relationship without spending time together. This is more than just being in the same house together or spending time together with children. You need to prioritize time for just the two of you. You need the space to enjoy each other’s company, to share interests and experiences, and to simply have fun.
Many relationships fall apart because the couple are basically living separate lives. Each person has their own interests and obligations, and they simply don’t make time to be together. They allow the demands of life to fill their hours, and then over time, they realize they have nothing in common and very little to say to one another.
If you don’t share common interests, develop some that you can enjoy together. Or step out of your comfort zone and engage in one of your partner’s interests. Don’t allow work, children, or other distractions to take precedence over this important time for the two of you.
6. You speak kindly.
What words and tone of voice do you use with your spouse or partner? Do you sound detached, irritated, sarcastic, or demeaning?
If you cherish this person, then speak to them in ways that reflect that. It’s so easy to take the other person for granted and to lash out at them when we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. If you do this enough, your words create deep wounds and undermine the intimacy of the relationship.
Simply speak kindly to the person you love. Do so even if they speak unkindly to you. Your words have more power than you can possibly imagine.
7. You are affectionate with each other.
Non-sexual touch like hugging, holding hands, kissing, and cuddling is vital to a healthy relationship. Studies have shown that couples who enjoy regular physical affection tend to be happier and more satisfied with their relationship. They also recover more quickly from conflict.
Even if you aren’t completely comfortable with affection, practice being more affectionate with your partner. Make a point to connect physically several times a day. Over time, you’ll feel more affectionate and create a deeper emotional bond with your partner.
8. You inspire and support each other to be better.
You do this not just in your words but in your actions. You show your spouse that you want them to succeed. You help them reach their goals and dreams, and you certainly don’t undermine a goal that your partner has out of jealously or indifference.
Each person deeply wants the best for the other and lovingly challenges the other to reach their full potential. In fact, you see the positive qualities in one another and reflect them back. You don’t try to diminish each other or focus on flaws or past mistakes.
9. You accept each other for who you are.
You know this person inside and out. You’ve seen their strengths and weaknesses. You know their personality and behaviors. You see your spouse or partner as an individual worthy of your respect and acceptance — not as a reflection of you or an extension of your ego.
You don’t try to change who they are or how they operate in the world. You may request behavior changes or negotiate priorities or decisions, but you never try to control or mold the person into who you think they should be.
10. You like each other.
Solid, healthy relationships are grounded in friendship. You simply like this person you live with. You enjoy their company. You have things to talk about. You laugh together. You make plans together.
You are honestly able to say that not only is this person your lover, life partner, and co-parent — he or she is your best friend.
As you review these 10 signs of a good relationship, think carefully about your own marriage or partnership. Where do you see you and your partner in each of these qualities or behaviors? What can you do to improve your connection and intimacy? Invite your spouse to read this article, and discuss the points together. Brainstorm changes you both want to make to improve your relationship.
Remember, it requires both people to be committed to the health of the relationship in order for it to thrive. If your partner resists, or if you feel resistant to improving the connection, then it might be time to visit a relationship counselor to help you navigate any issues between you and to create a plan for making your relationship stronger, closer, and happier.