Now more than ever, we are looking for it all from our partners. We want them to be our friend, lover, companion, confidant, co-parent and partner in crime. Gone are the days when we coupled up in order to procreate or get a dowry. Today’s healthy relationship is about amplifying what might be possible in our lives.
In order to determine if you are in a healthy relationship, it is important to gauge that by today’s standards, not by the metrics of old relationship benchmarks. Here are 5 ways to know if you are in a healthy intimate relationship, and what to do if you’re not.
1. You fight well
The old way to measure a healthy relationship is that you don’t fight. A couple who got along and were five times more affectionate than they were combative were seen as having something healthy. Yet in today’s healthy relationship, what is important is that you know how to work through conflicts in order to achieve greater harmony.
Just like a muscle that gets stronger once it tears and repairs after working out, so does a relationship get more powerful when the couple works through a disagreement.
Many couples don’t have an effective repair mechanism after they fight. A lot of them sweep their issues under the rug. Yet you will know that you’re in something healthy when you can fully resolve the conflict and find new solutions to your disagreements.
What to do if not?
If you are in a relationship in which you sweep problems under the rug, then it can be helpful to work with your partner to find new ways of making up after a fight.
Talk to each other about what you saw in your families growing up. How were fights and make ups handled there? What would you each want in order to resolve arguments such that your relationship could grow stronger from them?
2. Your sex is relaxing
Modern couples have so much going on in their lives that they don’t need sex to be another task; instead it needs to be something that nourishes and relaxes them.
Couples often rate the health of their sex life by measuring how passionate it is. They assume that they need wild, hot sex in order to demonstrate that their love life is where it should be. Yet you don’t need to be swinging from the rafters, or having kinky sex in dangerous locations in order to prove that your relationship is strong.
While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have intensity and intimacy in your love life, what most couples report to me in couples counseling is that they benefit from having a sex life that is relaxing and affirming. Rather than there needing to be pressure to have sex be something that defines how wildly or deeply you love each other.
A healthy sex life these days is one that causes both people to be more relaxed, open and connected.
Couples are often concerned about how often they have sex and want to know what a normal frequency is for married couples. Recent research shows that married couples who have sex once a week are happiest.
The key was to maintain a sense of connection and intimacy, yet having sex more than once a week didn’t make couples any happier. For modern healthy relationships, you don’t need to have sex every night but instead make sex something that is loving and connected.
What to do if not?
If sex in your relationship is not relaxing, then it can be helpful to talk with one another about what would help make it so.
Rather than allowing the chatter in your mind to govern how you experience sex, try to turn the dialogue into something that will bring more honesty and connection into the bedroom.
3. That little voice inside your head is quiet
People used to judge their relationships based on if you have outward similar values or enjoy doing the same activities together. Today’s healthy relationships are ones in which each person has an experience inside themselves of knowing that they are with the right person. It is an inner felt sense that you’re where you are supposed to be.
People want to feel certain about their relationships. While nothing is a guarantee when it comes to love, there is something healthy when that little voice inside your head is not questioning every little thing that happens.
I hear from clients all the time who are trying to interpret their partner’s behavior, or who are constantly worrying where the relationship is going. They keep evaluating what sort of future they might have with the other person, which causes them excess psychic stress.
A modern healthy relationship is one in which that little voice in your head is quiet. The chatter starts to go away and confidence in the solidity of the relationship emerges.
What to do if not?
If that inner chatter is there and you are worrying if you’re with the right person, or if the relationship is heading in the right direction, then it can be very helpful to get those thoughts out of your head and make them speakable.
Perhaps start with a trusted friend or well trained counselor to talk through and make sense of what you want from the relationship. It can sometimes be healing to hear your thoughts spoken out loud, rather than rattling around in your head.
Then, when the timing feels right, you could try talking with your partner and share your thoughts such that you can feel more confident in what you have together.
4. It’s easy to cry
Another old way of defining a healthy relationship is one in which the couple communicates well. However, with modern couples the better way to define health is that it is easy to be emotional with one another. Can you cry, laugh, scream, sulk and worry openly with each other?
Most people think that they need to have healthy communication with their partner to make the relationships work. The word “communication” is really an umbrella term to describe something much more complicated.
Most couples know how to do the mechanics of talking and hearing each other. The problem is really not how to communicate but how to manage emotions when we relate.
When the part of the brain that manages emotions (the Amygdala) gets activated, it shuts off access to the part of the brain that manages communication (the prefrontal cortex).
In relationships, people often describe becoming overwhelmed with emotion and then shut down their ability to connect and communicate. They describe becoming emotionally flooded or triggered. When this happens, couples tend to go into more of a fight-flight mode. They struggle with openly emoting and relating at the same time.
If you are in a relationship where you have access to one another’s internal lives and you share your emotions freely, then you are in good shape.
If your relationship is one in which you hold in emotions, then you might need to work to develop your emotional intelligence.
If you and your partner either shut down or have big blow ups when there are strong feelings involved, then you might need to do some deeper work to be more connected .
What to do if not?
The three steps involved in this sort of connection are being in touch with your feelings, naming them and then communicating them. The feelings exist in the body, so you would need to be in touch with your body to feel what is there. Then give a name to what that feeling is.
Once you have named it then you can tell your partner. For example, you feel unsettled in your belly. You might name that as anxiety. Then you could tell your partner, “I’m feeling anxious about my presentation this afternoon.”
Being able to put your thoughts and feelings into words can go a long way towards healthy relating.
5. You become more accountable
Most of us rate our relationships on how they make us feel. The old way of judging if you have a healthy relationship is to gauge if you feel better about yourself. But just because we might feel good doesn’t mean the relationship is healthy. Our partner might be co-dependent or there might be power dynamics in play that we don’t quite realize.
A new way to judge if you have a healthy relationship is to notice if you are more comfortable acknowledging your faults and taking accountability for your limitations. When it’s safe in a relationship to say “I’m wrong” or “I’m sorry,” then you know that the relationship is in good shape.
A lot of people focus on blaming the other person for the problems in their relationship. When there is no blame game, it opens the interaction up to something more creative. You may actually feel better about yourself when you admit and accept your weaknesses but still know that you are deeply loved and accepted.
Saying to your partner, “I don’t always get it right,” and knowing that’s OK can go a long way towards being comfortable taking accountability for your side of the relationship struggles.
What to do if not?
If you find yourself not comfortable taking accountability, you might want to see what happens when you try dropping your defenses just a bit.
Try acknowledging a shortcoming and test the waters to see what happens when you admit faults. Knowing that you can step out of the blame game can be a relief.
If you’re stuck in it, then couples counseling can always help with creating a more safe space in the relationship to take a closer look at what’s going on.
Remember, this is not your grandmother’s marriage. It’s not your mother’s or father’s relationship either. In fact, having a healthy intimate relationship in this day and age is nothing like we’ve ever seen before.
Take my advice, be honest with yourself and your partner and work together to make your relationship stronger.
Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com
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