Whether you’re considering your romantic, platonic, or professional relationships, knowing these 7 characteristics of a healthy relationship can help you set goals, self-reflect, and communicate your needs and boundaries with those around you.
Being in relationship with one another is one of those skills that we tend to think comes naturally—but it’s not. Building and maintaining relationships is a learned skill, whether we learn it implicitly by witnessing healthy relationships around us or explicitly by reading about relationships.
As you read this article, you may inclined to negatively judge the relationships in your life. I encourage you to resist this deficit-based or problem-based mindset and instead lean into a strength-based mindset by identifying the strengths in your various relationships.
As you move through the article, ask yourself what on this list am I really good at? And celebrate the answers. Then, after celebrating your wins and appreciating where you are in your journey, consider where might I improve?
1. You feel safe sharing your thoughts, feelings, and requests.
Open and honest communication is essential in any healthy relationship. The most common barrier to communication in relationships is a lack of safety.
Sometimes, we might feel afraid of voicing our opinions and feelings, because we worry about how the other person will respond. Other times, we might worry that making a request will result in us being disappointed.
Most often, the solution to improve communication comes from both sides: in a relationship, both people need to be reliable and predictable, and both people need to be open to being vulnerable and give the other the benefit of the doubt. This trust makes open communication possible.
2. You trust them.
Trust is foundational for healthy relationships, and trust is built over time. Trustworthiness is a quality that is comprised of three key pieces: reliability, credibility, and intimacy. Faltering in any of these will breach trust; however, the importance of each piece varies depending on the nature of the relationship.
For example, credibility might be the the most important aspect of a professional relationship, while intimacy might be most important aspect in your friendships.
Reliability refers to when someone’s words and actions align. If they say they’ll do something, you know they’ll do it.
Credibility refers to someone’s knowledge or expertise. You know that if they share information, it will be accurate.
Intimacy refers to confidentiality and closeness. It includes feelings of safety and connection that are built on an understanding of someone’s good intentions.
3. You can be your authentic self around them.
Feeling as though you can share your full self with someone is a sign that you feel comfortable and safe being vulnerable. It's also a sign that the relationship is truly non-judgmental.
When we know we'll be accepted no matter what, even when we fail or are silly, we feel a deep sense of inclusion, safety, and belonging. This is a great characteristic of a healthy relationship!
4. You talk about the power dynamics in your relationship.
Whether the power dynamics in your relationship are as explicit as those between a supervisor and an employee or a parent and a child or more subtle such as those in a romantic relationship that stem from heteronormativity, age differences, or income differences, talking about those power dynamics is the first step to addressing the feelings and imbalances that arise from them.
Having explicit conversations about power is how we achieve equity. Even if the word “power” isn’t used, you might have these conversations by talking about decision-making and the distribution of shared responsibilities.
5. Each person has autonomy to make their own decisions.
Our individual issues with control often appear in our relationships. Without realizing it, we might use different methods to try and control the behaviors of those around us. In a healthy relationship, each person is in control of their own behavior and they recognize that others are in control of their own behavior as well.
Letting go of control allows each person to maintain their voice and choice regarding things that impact them the most.
6. You ask each other for help.
Mutual support is a characteristic of a healthy relationship, and no matter what kind of relationship you're thinking about, knowing what kinds of support you can ask someone for is a sign that your relationship is doing well.
How often do you really ask for help?
7. You say “no” to each other.
Setting, knowing, and honoring boundaries is important for any relationship. When we talk about boundaries it's important to remember that boundaries aren't about controlling other peoples' behaviors; they're about setting expectations for our own behavior.
For example, "stop asking me to do your work for you," isn't a boundary. However, "no, I can't help you with this project," is a boundary.
Sometimes, we avoid saying to no to people because we fear disappointing them or facing consequences. Being able to say no is a sign of a healthy relationship.
Final Thoughts: 7 Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship
These characteristics of healthy relationships can be applied to your personal, familial, platonic, romantic, and professional relationships. However, it's important to keep in mind that if you don't "check off" each characteristic on the list, that doesn't mean your relationship is unhealthy.
Ultimately, each relationship is unique, and these characteristics are not exhaustive. You know your relationships best, and you are the one who gets to decide if a relationship feels good to you.
This list is meant to support you as you continue to cultivate strong and healthy relationships in your community.