The programs we watch and the things we read are filled with images of “happy” and “successful” couples, but what constitutes success in a relationship? When any of us take time to reflect on our own, we’ll probably find aspects we think are healthy, and others that are challenging or even distressing. While there is no perfect “relationship test” or guaranteed formula, there’s nothing wrong with a little relationship health check.
Every couple is different and what works in one relationship may not work in another. Some couples swear by separate bedrooms (with sleepovers), while others would find this arrangement intolerable. When questioned about the “failure” of his marriage to Linda Kozlowski, actor Paul Hogan said he thought “a 23-year marriage was a success, not a failure.”
Whatever your feelings about what makes a relationship a “success”, or what constitutes a toxic relationship, everyone deserves to be safe (every day) and happy (on most days) with their partner.
If there are aspects of your relationship you’ve been throwing in the “too hard basket”, here are some ideas to consider that may help you navigate things into calmer waters.
1. Kindness, care and thoughtfulness
Many little kindnesses and thoughtful gestures show our partner that we care. If we have no preference, why not stack the dishwasher the particular way they like it if it makes our partner happy? Perhaps it drives them crazy when you leave clothes on the bathroom floor, picking them up might make their day.
These small, thoughtful gestures strengthen a relationship and bypass a process where things of little consequence can become a battlefield.
Of course, there needs to be a balanced flow of giving and giving-in. Compromising on these little things shouldn’t involve losing yourself.
2. Mutual respect and manners
Do you treat your partner with respect and think the best of them at all times, even when you disagree? Especially when in the company of family and friends?
“Please” and “thank you” might be a given when you are around friends, colleagues or strangers but these expressions of appreciation are super important with your loved ones, too. Even when it’s about little things, this appreciation demonstrates you don’t take your partner for granted.
3. Accepting your partner for who they are
Often the qualities we valued in a person when we first met can be those we later want to change. It works better if we can respect differences rather than try to change each other.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ask your partner to consider changing some behaviours, like picking a wet towel off the floor, but if you want to change their core nature, good luck!
4. Criticism and blaming
While some people are inherently selfish or lazy, it is also true that we sometimes call people “selfish” and “lazy” when they are simply not doing what we want them to do.
Beware of your judgements, criticism and blaming when it comes to your partner. Check in with yourself to see if the certainty you have in your own way of doing something needs to be shared with your partner.
5. The power of communication
Healthy relationships require a commitment to keep communication open and flowing. Ask yourself these questions to test the way you share ideas with your partner:
- Do you feel safe enough to express a different opinion?
- Do you listen to one another to hear each other’s ideas?
- Are either of you reactive or defensive when you respond to one another?
When talking isn’t easy, one strategy to help communicate is to write a text or a letter (hopefully, when you are calm!), and then follow up in person. Allow each other to take time and space, but keep the lines of communication open.
6. Arguments and forgiveness
Arguments are a normal part of being in a relationship. However, consider how you and your partner work through the challenges involved with disagreements.
To build a healthy relationship means being able to disagree, while having mutual respect and a willingness to resolve differences. It takes courage and decency to make a genuine apology and admit when we’re wrong.
The importance of repairing hurt feelings is often underestimated in the way it helps build trust and intimacy in a relationship. Telling your partner: “I can see I really hurt your feelings, and I’m sorry,” goes a long way in the process of repair.
On the flip side, repair also involves a willingness to forgive, let go of hurt feelings, and move on after an apology.
7. Companionship, support and good times
Couples who view their partner as a “best friend” are indeed lucky, but is it just luck to feel this way about someone?
If you’d like to enrich your relationship with your partner, perhaps ask yourself: Do you make spending time with each other a priority? Do you make an effort to have conversations and tell each other about your day? Are you open to new things? Do you share laughter, goals and plan good times?
If life isn’t flowing smoothly, question whether you give your partner enough attention and support. Can you give your partner freedom to do their own thing without resentment? Are you aware when your partner feels lonely?
8. Sharing domestic duties and parenting
It is no surprise that relationships where responsibilities are shared more evenly are often happier and more harmonious.
In fact, research shows sharing housework and parenting responsibilities has a big impact on healthy relationships, while an imbalance in these responsibilities can add to relationship dissatisfaction.
Goodwill is created when both partners contribute and share proactively. Sharing the everyday demands of life demonstrates “we are in this together”.
9. Being a cheerleader for each other
Do you recognise your partner’s achievements? Do you value, encourage and support your partner’s passions, interests and goals?
You don’t have to love everything your partner does but finding ways to show you respect what is important to your partner lets them know you are interested and can lead to greater intimacy.
10. Responsibility for health, stress and self-care
If you are unhealthy and stressed, how can you be a part of a healthy and happy relationship? Self-care is an important priority. Sometimes irritation with our partner can be traced back to our own self-neglect, rather than their deficiencies.