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Definition, Characteristics, and Tips on How to Build Healthy Relationships

Definition, Characteristics, and Tips on How to Build Healthy Relationships

Updated on Sep 28, 2023

Reviewed by Julianne Cantarella, MSW, LSW , Certified Relationship Coach

Healthy Relationships - Definition, Characteristics, and How to Build It

I am sure you’ve come across the term “healthy relationships” several times… in blogs and magazines or TV shows or even in books.

It makes you curious and intrigued.

…which led you here, to this think-piece.

Well, healthy relationships differ from person to person. You can’t identify some combination of traits and label it as a healthy relationship.

Moreover, the internet is overflowing with information about bad relationships and the red flags… but no one talks about healthy relationships.

And that’s why I decided to write this.  

So, without any delay, let’s begin with…

Healthy Relationships Infographics

Healthy Relationships - Definition, and Characteristics
Healthy Relationships – Definition, and Characteristics
Healthy Relationships - Signs and How to Build It
Healthy Relationships – Signs and How to Build It

What is a healthy relationship?

In a healthy relationship both sides equally and comfortably express themselves without any fear of judgment. However, the definition changes with your changing needs and your adaptability to changes.

The definition of a healthy relationship might depend on the people, culture, traditions, and so on. When a relationship caters to all the needs of both sides equally, you can call it a healthy relationship.

But there’s a catch, your and your partner’s needs will change with time, so your definition of healthy relationships will change too.

However, if both sides willingly make efforts to continue the relationship through rain or shine, it’s a healthy relationship.

For instance, the kind of relationship you wanted in young adulthood isn’t the same as the kind you want in your 40s.

Your romantic relationship will revolve less around sexual activity, and more around affection, good communication skills, active listening, space, values, or common interests.

Also, building a healthy relationship differs from monogamists to ethical non-monogamists.

However, a healthy relationship doesn’t imply a flawless one… it’s rather a happy relationship.

No two people are flawless, they work together to mitigate all of their issues together, with one another’s interests in mind.

To understand better, let’s take a quick glance over…

Healthy vs unhealthy relationships

A healthy relationship differs from an unhealthy one in many obvious ways. However, you might not be aware because nobody helped you identify them.  

If you don’t learn them in school, or your parents don’t speak about creating healthy boundaries, you won’t ever know about them. So, let’s find out if you can differentiate between the two with these…

BasisHealthy RelationshipsUnhealthy Relationships
CommunicationIn a healthy relationship, both sides communicate properly. You share what you need, what hurts you.You communicate to resolve conflict.You both must be good listeners.Unhealthy relationships don’t involve effective communication.You don’t express your issues due to some underlying issues in the relationship.You don’t listen to each other and don’t partake in conflict resolution.
CombinationA healthy relationship feels like a great blend of friendship, trust, and physical intimacy.In an unhealthy relationship, you’ll feel a misbalance of the key characteristics like communication, trust, or intimacy.
Your feelingsHealthy relationships make you feel heard when you put forward your points of view.Or, you feel safe when you’re vulnerable.Unhealthy relationships don’t make you feel comfortable. Mostly, you can’t express your honest and open opinions due to communication gaps.
PerfectionismIf you admit your relationship isn’t perfect, yet make the best out of it, your relationship is healthy.If you constantly try to make your relationship perfect based on internet trends or celebrities, it’s an unhealthy one.
Conflict resolutionPeople in healthy relationships communicate to solve the issue.People in unhealthy relationships avoid conflict resolution and gaslight one another.
ConfidenceYou become more confident and productive from healthy relationships.You feel under confident, suffer from self-doubt, and feel anxious in unhealthy relationships.
FaithYou trust each other, and share what’s on your mind honestly because you know they won’t judge you.Building trust or developing positive feelings is out of the question because they always make you question your capabilities.
AbuseThere’s no place for any kind of abuse in healthy relationships.Unhealthy relationships involve some amount of physical or emotional abuse.
CelebrationsYou celebrate together for one another’s accomplishments.You suppress news of accomplishments because your partner won’t support you, or will get jealous.
Sexual activitiesHealthy romantic relationships don’t include partners forcing each other into bed.Unhealthy relationships include forcing you to have sexual intercourse or performing sexual actions.

Since the differences are too deep, you might find trouble understanding healthy relationships. So. let’s me tell you some…

Characteristics of a healthy relationship

Whether you’re concerned about a personal, professional, or social relationship, you can’t keep hanging onto it if you think they are unhealthy.

But how do you know they’re unhealthy? No, don’t go by your gut alone, here are a few characteristics of healthy relationships… So if you find that your relationship lacks even one, it’s absolutely unhealthy.

1. Trust is a pillar of healthy relationships

In healthy relationships, you’ll trust one another with your safety. However, if you were in unhealthy relationships in the past, you might face difficulties opening up.

Though, that doesn’t imply you can’t have a healthy relationship.

You’ll build trust with one another with time, as you both disclose your past together… and encourage each other to share more.

2. One of the best policies? Honesty

The extent of openness in healthy relationships depends on the parties involved. Honesty is not a one-size-fits-all thing in a relationship, however, it’s an important part and characteristic of a healthy relationship.

At least, you or your partner must feel comfortable in the relationship to not hide anything like your weaknesses, trigger-points, opinions, or interests.

However, you can always choose to keep your space and privacy. Remember, honesty doesn’t mean you need to let your roll down all your personal boundaries.

3. Respect work both ways

To sustain a relationship, you need mutual respect which is also a foundation of a healthy relationship.

Suppose, when the other person makes a request, you listen to what they want and try your best because you want to… not because you must, or you’re scared of the consequences.

Say they made a mistake, you understand the situation and forgive them, not scream and yell for not having things your way.

You both must respect each other irrespective of the situation.

4. Affection leads to optimism

In a healthy relationship, you’ll be affectionate to each other naturally. You don’t show affection because you must, but because you feel fulfilled when you do.

For instance, with age libido and thus the passion drops considerably. However, your hunger for affection, tenderness, or comfort doesn’t fade away.

Over time, even if sexual passion diminishes, couples with healthy relationships find new ways to bond like showing affections.

Both partners might not show or need equal affection, but they work things out in a healthy relationship.

5. Communication helps in deepening bonds

For any healthy relationship, personal, social, or professional ones, you need communication.

For instance, if you share your opinions clearly with the other person, they can make things work to your preference quicker than letting them guess or play trial and error.

Healthy long-term relationships include misunderstandings, fights, and disagreements. However, these relationships require a fair amount of communication to work things out amidst the chaos.

For instance, leaving the other one hanging with negative feelings is a no-go in a healthy relationship.

6. Adjustment helps to solve the puzzle

All kinds of relationships require compromises because no two people have identical choices.

Suppose, your partner likes mild food, but you like spicy food. When you order take-out or make food for both, neither of you must inconvenience the other.

Instead, you work out something in between. For instance, you can add spices to the mild food later.

In healthy relationships, both sides compromise… maybe in different aspects of life, but both do best for the other’s comfort.

7. Individuality retention is real

Say, you love classical music and your partner likes metal. What do you do when they listen to metal music?

In a healthy relationship, even if you don’t like metal, you don’t interfere in their lives or order them to change their tastes.

You love each other for who they are, and not pressure them into being someone else. Successful relationships need support for individuality.

Healthy partners don’t try to create a new version of their partner, they love them as they are and help them become a better version of themselves.

8. Anger controlling is valuable

Remember when you became angry in elementary because your best friend talked to others? Everyone gets angry and the way you express (or don’t) makes the deal.

If you deal with anger, destruction, screaming, yelling, or even abuse, your relationship is unhealthy.

In a healthy relationship, people make an effort to calm down, take deep breaths, or simply talk about what’s wrong.

You don’t dump your negativity on the other person to feel better in healthy relationships.

9. Fair fights are dealmakers

In healthy relationships, people have disagreements, arguments, and fights. However, the fights revolve around the issue, they understand each other’s point, explain their own, and find a solution.

You won’t notice people in healthy relationships name-calling, mentioning old issues, insulting each other because of them, their past, their families, or doing anything hurtful.

When people do that and think it’s normal, they’re confused about the healthy relationship concept.

10. You build problem-solving skills

In a healthy relationship, you’ll work together as a team whenever you face difficulties. You don’t blame each other for the difficulties or say “You always get us in trouble”.

Instead, you might lose your calm for a few moments but you get back together to deal with the important things. You’ll know that blaming or refusing responsibility isn’t the right answer to your ordeals.

You’ll also develop great problem-solving skills individually.

11. You’ll take time to understand

Nobody is a mind-reader so don’t expect them to be superhuman who will understand you at the drop of a hat.

In a healthy relationship, you learn to understand each other’s feelings, moods, when they’re down or when they need a hug.

You stay together, observe one another well, and in the long run, you kind of become deduction masters. Instead of reading their minds, you deduce the other’s feelings from their actions.

12. You’ll become one another’s confidence boosters

In a healthy relationship, you learn more than just about each other. You learn to become self-confident and believe that you can and you will.

In unhealthy relationships, partners might talk down to each other, demotivate one another, and both become a mess of toxicity.

However, in a healthy one, you continuously back each other, make them believe in themselves and make sure you are never low on confidence.

You don’t aggravate each other’s mental health issues, rather take all the measures to minimize it.

13. You inspire each other

In a healthy relationship, you don’t grow with the other’s support. You grow and inspire the other to progress along with you.

Imagine yourself rock climbing together and taking turns to take the lead. You both harmoniously lead each other respectfully.

However, in unhealthy relationships, people pass sarcastic remarks for the other’s losses and enjoy it. They even get jealous if the other person achieves better in their life.

14. Sex is a comforting activity

In healthy romantic relationships, partners don’t force each other because romantic “partners are obliged to do it” Rather, they indulge in it only when both parties give consent and feel comfortable with it.

If anybody forces you into sexual relationships or tries to change your mind, they don’t respect your wishes and the relationship eventually turns unhealthy.

15. You treat each other patiently

People may not be patient all the time. You and I lose our calm too, and that’s normal… doesn’t mean we can’t be in healthy relationships.

However, in a healthy relationship, you will be able to read the mood of the other person and understand that something is wrong.

When partners in a healthy relationship notice the other’s agitation, they become more comforting, patient, supportive, and peace-inducing.

They understand the other person is having a rough time and can’t handle it anymore.

16. You appreciate each other

In healthy relationships, when partners support each other with verbal appreciation, they feel good. 

For instance, when you do a great job at the office, your partner congratulates you and makes you feel more accomplished and positive about your life.

It triggers a sense of belonging and you both eventually develop a relationship deeper than the surface. When you appreciate each other, you build positive feelings for each other.

17. You accept change/growth

No two people will remain the same throughout their life. For instance, you might like one kind of fiction genre today, but it doesn’t mean you won’t develop a taste for a new genre.

Similarly, as you grow, your interests, opinions, beliefs may also change.

In a healthy relationship, when people find new likes or dislikes, partners don’t say “You’ve changed” or “We’re not on the same page anymore”.

Instead, they accept it… and embrace it.

Now that you know the characteristics, I’m sure you want to know whether or not your relationship is healthy. So here are a few…

Signs of a healthy relationship

Your relationship is unique so every healthy relationship will not have identical ways of dealing with situations.

Your neighbor might handle an argument one way and you another, yet both can be healthy relationships… confused?

Let’s find out here…

1. You communicate openly and honestly

When you or your partner is dissatisfied with the other, how do you guys handle the situation?

If you people honestly communicate with each other, that’s a great sign of a healthy relationship.

Be it an issue from your work life, something indicating underlying mental health concerns, or even economic issues, you must feel comfortable sharing your views.

In ethical non-monogamy, communication helps them work through their chain of relationships. However, even monogamists can use this to their advantage.

2. You have faith in their judgment

How much do you believe in them? Do you trust them with your life? Do you have faith they won’t ever physically or emotionally harm you?

If yes, that’s another great green flag of your relationship.

However, if you feel afraid that they’ll judge you, or react in a hurtful way, or you ponder on the consequences of sharing any information with them, these are signs of unhealthy relationships.

3. You feel independent

Many people lose their sense of individuality when they get in a romantic relationship, or even in blood relationships.

Interdependence on each other isn’t bad, however, if you’re codependent – completely lose your individuality in the relationship – it’s a red flag.

If you feel good about yourself even when they don’t compliment – in short, you’re confident about yourself – that’s a sign of a healthy relationship.

Though they’ll support you whenever you need them, you don’t depend unnecessarily.

4. You find something new about this person everyday

Do you think there’s nothing new to know about the person you love?

If not, that’s a great sign of a healthy functional relationship.

You and your partner both change with time. When you’re open to their growth or development over time, it implies you’re the one.

You’ll cheer for their best and find everything amazing about the changes, even if it’s not something you like.

For instance, you like beaches, but you don’t dismiss their mountain vacation plans.

5. You balance your time

Many people misunderstand the concept of spending time together. You don’t need to spend 24/7 around each other, rather spend quality time together for a little while.

You also have work, a social circle, friends, and family.

If you feel comfortable tending to your business while you spend time apart, that’s a good sign.

However, if you or your partner feels you guys MUST spend time together, else the relationship won’t work, that’s a bad sign.

6. You’re spontaneous and chilled

Life is full of challenges, hardships, and distress, and you’re not always in the best mood… and that’s natural.

However, if you both know that the hardships aren’t forever… and take your time out from your hectic schedule to support your relationship, that’s great.

That doesn’t imply that you disregard your difficulties or delay dealing with problems to prioritize your relationship.

Rather, you’re confident about solving things out together, so you don’t find a point to stress out.

7. It’s not just about sex

What does your partner feel about physical bonding?

If it’s only sex, that’s a bad sign.

Physical bonds can include sex, but it also includes a lot more like hugs, pats, caresses, cuddles, kisses, or even holding hands.

Also, if you two can positively handle rejection especially when the other refuses sex, then you guys have the ultimate healthy relationship.

Moreover, in healthy relationships, you’ll feel comfortable expressing your sexual needs, desires, and information about your other partners (in nonmonogamy).

8. You make the best team

When you struggle, do you think of returning to them after a long day for comfort, or do you think they won’t bat an eyelash if you drop dead?

If it’s the first one, you’re on “team healthy relationship”.  You guys know that you have each other when you need them and they’ll support you without judging you.

Even if you made a mistake, they’ll silently listen to you ramble instead of saying “Why did you do that?”

9. You resolve conflict, not ignore

When you guys have disagreements, how do you both react?

Ignore each other, wait for the other one to apologize? Or, do you work on solving the issue at hand?

If it’s the last one, you’re on the safe side. You must both focus on removing any differences rather than waiting or feeding your ego.

In a healthy relationship, people forget the differences and forgive each other’s mistakes and work to live harmoniously.

10. You don’t worship them

If you notice their flaws and still accept them for who they are, that’s a great sign.

Some people ignore or deny their partner’s shortcomings and idealize them as perfect people. Often, it’s a sign of infatuation and not love. Such fantasies also exert mental pressure on the partner.

However, if you accept them as they are, they feel comfortable and even thrive to become better for you.

11. You both bask in the journey

If both of you love and feel comfortable with the pace of your relationship’s progress, that’s a good sign.

Sometimes, partners have conflicts with the pace they progress in the relationship.

Say, you want to get married, but your partner wants to reach a better position in life before settling down… and honestly, these differences are normal.

However, for a healthy relationship, you must be able to find a middle ground so that neither loses. Remember, rushing any step can ruin your relationship.

12. You guys focus on WE than YOU and I

A relationship is a two-way road. It may sound selfish, but the truth is all healthy relationships work on give-and-take policies.

For instance, one person alone can’t take this relationship to the shore. It’s only possible when you two work like two complementary pieces of the same puzzle.

You prioritize yourself and allow them to do so too. You both make sacrifices, and value each other’s thoughts and emotions equally.

There’s no greater person between you two, you’re equal and you support each other with your best, without measuring or counting your favors.

13. You both are empathetic

Everyone needs support and comfort when they’re down.

When you or your partner feels low, if you both care for each other and make efforts to cheer each other, that’s another good sign.

When you truly love each other, you won’t think “He/She seems sad so I must comfort them”.

You comfort them subconsciously without thinking much about it because care comes naturally for people you love.

14. You don’t play the blame-game with each other

You both own your mistakes honestly. Even when you know you got yourselves in trouble and the other might react badly, you don’t side-track the conversation or blame each other.

In a healthy relationship, you must also know how to own up to your mistakes and apologize when needed.

It helps you both understand how precious you are to each other. When you correct your mistakes, you show each other how serious you’re about the relationship.

If you find some of these signs are missing from your relationship, here’s how you can work on it.

How to build a healthy relationship? (how to have a healthy relationship)

If you find your relationship is unhealthy, you might want to fix it. After all, nobody wants to dump a hard-built relationship into the mud. 

It’s not impossible… you have chances. However, you both must be willing to step forward equally, else it won’t work.

Let’s begin with the first step…

1. Appreciate and encourage your partner’s efforts

Everyone isn’t equally capable of taking charge of their relationships. However, that doesn’t mean the little things they do are invaluable.

If your spouse wakes up early in the morning to prepare for your day, show your gratitude. Say thank you and give them a peck before leaving.

If your parents do your laundry because you’re dog-tired, thank them and do something to help release their burden.

When you show gratitude in a relationship, happiness lasts longer in it.

2. Take a detour from boredom-land

Relationship researchers found that boredom in marital relationships can lead to relationship dissatisfaction quite soon. Marriages mostly don’t work out because they lose the spark.

Your job is to bring back that spark. Plan trips without your kids or extended family. Order takeout if you cook daily, or cook food if you both often order in.

Bring minute changes in your leisure time. Bond with each other physically, spend more exclusive time.

3. Put yourself in their shoes

Every person sees life differently. People usually prioritize themselves and ask others to get in their shoes… but very few among them actually see the situation from others’ viewpoint.

You definitely don’t want to be that person. Know about each other’s interests and try to put yourself in their shoes.

Do they see a half-empty glass or a half-full one? When you learn these small details, you will not only understand them but will also empathize with them.

4. Find happiness in differences

Even the most iconic relationship has differences. However, they don’t argue over them or stress the fact that they’re different. Rather, they embrace the diversity in their relationship.

When you and your partner have different opinions, strike meaningful discussions on it. That way you’ll always entertain yourself and never get bored.

Suppose you like big luxurious things; you can plan a better outdoor date night. However, if your partner likes to stay in, they can arrange miraculous date nights at home.

5. Learn to express yourself

If you face difficulties in your relationship, talking to your partner can help find the solutions better than stressing on your own.

You both must express yourself properly, avoid overreacting, and listen to each other’s needs. Perhaps you won’t always find the exact desirable solution, but it’s better than nothing.

You both will learn throughout your experiences and learn to soothe each other better.

6. Chase your dreams as a team

Your relationship isn’t “perfect”, and you honestly don’t need perfection in it… after all, it’s not a business project, it involves two people’s hearts.

In the long run, you’ll understand that as long as you are each other’s anchors, you won’t drift apart. So today, work on solving something together instead of doing it alone.

Realize that you two need to bring out the best in each other.

7. Share your interests

When you feel doubtful about your relationship, something might be seriously bothering you.

So, whenever you’re in doubt, express your concerns to your partner, know if you’re worried in vain or if you have valid reasons.

Instead of overthinking, clear your doubts asap to keep your relationship healthy and lively.

If you focus on the negatives and jump to conclusions without any solid reasoning, you’ll ruin your relationship and regret later.

8. Get expert’s aid

If you feel you can’t help your relationship, then seek a therapist’s help to solve your relationship issues.

Couples’ therapy can help you detect the chief issues and find better ways to communicate and resolve your problems.

However, the other person’s willingness to change and create a healthy relationship is also important to you both.

If you’re still confused whether or not you’re in a healthy relationship, you may want to take this…

Healthy relationship quiz

Most times, you can’t define your relationships in one single line… and the examples might not match your situations.

You might misunderstand your fairly healthy relationship as unhealthy if you don’t read through the signs well. 

So, let’s give it a last try to know if your relationship is healthy with these…

1. Do you and your partner encourage each other to develop in personal or professional life?

2. Are you both satisfied with the stage of your relationship?

3. Do you both desire the same thing for your future?

4. Do you like them the way they are?

5. Are you comfortable being yourself around them?

6. Did your life become better after your relationship?

7. Do you both contribute and accept almost equally from the relationship?

8. Do you interact meaningfully when you’re together?

9. Do you both attentively listen to the other?

10. Do you guys have a friendly bond?

11. Do you show kindness to each other?

12. Do you comfortably spend time away from one another?

13. Do you feel safe in your relationship?

14. Do you both accept your mistakes?

15. Can you both stay truthful to each other?

16. Can you share your feelings without feeling judged?

17. Do you both have equal say on relationship decisions?

18. Do you both adjust when things don’t go your way?

19. Do you consider each other’s feelings when making decisions?

20. Can you both stay respectful during arguments?

21. Do you both share your emotions and vulnerabilities?

22. Can you both listen to one another without judgments?

If you mostly answered with YES, then you’re in a healthy relationship and you have nothing to worry about. However, if that’s not the case, then you must talk to them about it.

If you want to read up more on this topic, check these…

Books on healthy relationships

If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, it might be because you don’t know how to differentiate it from a healthy one.

So, I’ve compiled five books on healthy relationships that tell you how to nurture healthy relationships.

1. Tiny Beautiful Things (Cheryl Strayed)

A self-help book about healthy relationships, self-development, and the importance of showing empathy for others. The author wrote the book based on her real-life personal experiences.

2. The 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman)

This book is mostly about how different individuals communicate with their partners. The author also shared tips for those who can’t communicate well in their relationships and suffer from misunderstandings.

3. Happiness is a Choice You Make (John Leland)

A book about the author interviewing 80+ years olds about finding happiness in relationships. All the aged interviewees shared one common fact; happiness begins with respecting oneself.

4. Forever… (Judy Blume)

The author shows that even when love doesn’t last an eternity, it can still be mesmerizing, meaningful, and inspirational.

5. Tell Me More (Kelly Corgan)

A compilation of short essays about how relationships are always full of complications, and nobody is an expert figuring out the other. However, you can improve your relationship with small steps.

A word from ThePleasantRelationship

Whether you fell in love at first sight or got into an arranged marriage, it can be hard to understand if your relationship is healthy.

You might know a person for years and still not guess if it’s an unhealthy relationship. Or, you might meet someone a few weeks ago, yet they might know better about healthy relationship things.

However, don’t be afraid of falling in love because you might face unhealthy relationship signs. 

Rather, educate yourself about healthy relationship signs and be straightforward about what you want from the very beginning.

Never compromise in the name of love, because you’re not making a deal, buddy!