A romantic relationship is supposed to bring you happiness. It’s supposed to be healthy, satisfying and especially loving.
If your relationship is suffering in any of those areas, maybe it’s not the right relationship for you. Or maybe you just don’t know what to do to make it any better.
Relationships aren’t supposed to be difficult – they all have their own challenges. But after you work through them, your relationship is supposed to get stronger and healthier.
The problems begin when realize that you can’t work through the challenges. This is when you feel like the relationship is stuck and you’re not sure how to get it unstuck. It becomes more difficult to communicate and you both end up walking around with repressed emotional triggers just waiting to be sprung.
Relationships are meant for pleasure, not pain.
If your relationship is more painful than pleasurable, it’s time to evaluate it and make sure it’s on track to succeed. Below is what I believe are the top 10 components of a happy, healthy and satisfying relationship. I believe if your relationship uses these components as a guideline, it will last longer and you will both be happier.
This list is for both partners, not just one (see #2). If one person is working on the relationship, then you aren’t “relating” at all. It takes two to work at it.
If the comment “you do all the work since I’m doing nothing wrong” is ever uttered when it comes to working on your relationship, you will never be satisfied sorry to say. Relationships take two people to accept responsibility for their role. When one decides that it’s up to the other person to do all the work, you no longer have a relationship – you have a dictatorship.
Hopefully you have more of an equal partnership so that you can work on these components together.
The Top 10 Components of a Happy, Healthy, and Satisfying Relationship
1. Both partners must have well defined boundaries of what’s acceptable, and what’s not.
If you aren’t clear to your partner that they are doing something that is unacceptable to you, you may find them doing it over and over again until you’ve reached maximum threshold. By then, it may be too late. You may be so repeatedly triggered by their behavior that you just can’t stand to be in the relationship anymore.
Lesson: Express to your partner when they’ve violated a boundary. Make it clear what behavior you will and won’t accept. That way there are no surprises if you ever need to enforce those boundaries.
2. Reciprocation must be as close to equal as possible.
When one person gives and gives and the other takes and takes, it is an unhealthy balance and what will likely lead to “relationship radiation” where the taker becomes more toxic to be around. When the taker takes advantage of the giver’s generosity, the giver will usually develop resentment and start to shut down as they get burnt out.
Lesson: Make it your mission to notice what your partner is doing for you. Think about what would make them happy then do that thing. If you hate cleaning the bathroom but your partner loves when you do it, make it happen. Balancing the relationship scale adds a lot your romantic and emotional connection.
3. Do your best to understand your partner’s difficulties in life.
It’s important to your partner for you to, at minimum, acknowledge their challenges. If they are feeling bad or stressed about something and you dismiss their experience, they may feel invalidated and hurt. Seeking to understand their challenges makes them feel as if they are not alone in what they are going through.
Lesson: Figure out what makes your partner unhappy and be an active listener when they are struggling. You may be able to help them through it, or you may not. Do your best to understand their plight to show them that you actually care about what happens to them.
4. Realize that everything “wrong” with your partner is really just a reflection of your own struggle with acceptance.
This is a difficult concept to digest but when you do, you follow a healthier path for both of you. When you choose to accept your partner for all their faults and flaws, you free yourself from the attachment of wanting them to change. Therefore you stop focusing on everything they’re doing “wrong” and start focusing on what you need to do for yourself.
In other words, you realize you cannot control anyone but yourself. This allows you to stop waiting for them to make the changes you want them to make, and forces you to take your own steps toward change.
An example of this is when I was married. I waited for my wife to change the entire time we were together. Whenever she would reach for junk food, I would give her dirty looks, I would emotionally withdraw, I would tell her how disappointed I was in her. All of this was an attempt to control her behavior by making her feel bad about herself. It was classic emotional abuse.
When we separated, I had the realization that I spent so much time judging her and trying to control her behavior that it kept the focus off of me and what I needed to do for myself. While I was married, I never once considered that her behavior would never change. And that if I wanted things to change, I had to be the one to make changes for myself.
I discovered that if I had spent more time accepting her behavior instead of resisting it, I could have been focusing on what I wanted for me.
I decided to ask myself, “If she never changed, ever, would I stay in this marriage?” This question got my head swirling because that meant I had to come to an acceptance of behavior I disagreed with or leave the marriage. I had to accept that her challenges with emotional eating would never end so I that I would have to take steps (change) if I wanted to be happier in or out of the relationship.
In the end, I chose to stay in the marriage even though it didn’t last. I stayed because I chose to accept her the way she was. She noticed this change in me; I stopped judging her. I stopped withdrawing. I was a different person. But she had already fallen out of love with me so our relationship pretty much ended shortly after. However I kept the changes I went through because I knew they were healthier for me and any person I’d end up with.
When I chose to perceive that everything I saw “wrong” in her was just my struggle with acceptance of her behavior, I became responsible for my happiness again. It doesn’t mean you have to stay in a relationship where you are getting mistreated or someone is violating your values, it just means you focus on what you need to do for yourself so that you don’t waste any more time waiting for someone else to change.
Lesson: Pay attention to what bothers you about your partner and ask yourself if you accept their behavior or if you reject it and are trying to make them change in some way. If you find yourself trying to control them, turn that control around onto yourself and ask what you need to do for you knowing they will never, ever, change.
5. Get your alone time, otherwise you will develop resentment
Along with balancing the give and take in a relationship, you also need to take time for yourself so that you have balance as well. This might mean sitting in a quiet room reading, or taking a trip for a couple days or more to see family.
Everyone needs their “me” time. Take yours, allow your partner to take theirs, and you’ll get a recharge and refresh so you can meet again from a new space.
Lesson: Encourage your partner to do what s/he likes to do, even if it’s something you may not like. If your partner loves drinking beer and watching sports but you oppose it, set up a game day at your house and give them that gift. If they love the opera and you hate it, buy them a couple tickets for them and a friend. “ME” time is vital for a healthy relationship.
6. Try new things
One of the simplest components of a happy, healthy relationship is to introduce novelty – something unique, interesting and new – so that you can experience it together.
Lesson: Keep an eye out for local events and arrange to go to one you’ve never been to. You may love it, you may hate it, but either way you’ll have something new to talk about. When I was married, my wife took me dancing at an 80s-only dance one night. It was uncomfortable but I ended up having a good time. Now, it’s a fond memory because it was so unique and out of my normal experience.
7. Become conscious of how they treat other people
My girlfriend once told me that she felt safe around me right away because she observed how I treated my mom. She said, “A guy who is nice to his mom will usually be nice to women in general”. She also said that someone who is mean to the waiter or waitress will eventually be mean to their partner.
When you observe how your partner treats other people, it can usually be a sign of how they treat you (or will eventually treat you).
This doesn’t always apply, but it can be a good gauge of what to expect from your partner. By being observant of their behavior around others, it can help you make better decisions about your relationship.
Lesson: Notice if they are rude or insensitive to certain people. If you see behavior you don’t like, ask yourself if they’ve ever treated you that way? And, has it increased over time? It’s good to pay attention to trends instead of individual instances. This is more of a preventative maintenance step, but still an important one.
8. Support their happiness even if they would be happier without you
This is another difficult concept to swallow but one of the most important components on this list.
I define “love” as supporting another person’s happiness. When you support what makes your partner happy, it is the ultimate display of love and acceptance.
Learning what makes them happy, then supporting their path to follow that happiness is one of the best gifts you can give. The caveat in this particular component is that sometimes the person you are with would be happier without you. Can you honor their path to happiness then?
If so, then you are truly loving and supportive of their happiness. If you can’t because you want to be with them, then you might be showing them that you care about your own happiness more than theirs.
Like I said, it’s a difficult concept because it may involve some sacrifices on your part. However if you had someone in your life that honored your path and just wanted you to be happy no matter what, wouldn’t that make you love them even more?
That’s the reward for supporting someone else’s happiness… they are usually happier being with someone who supports their path.
Lesson: What can you do to support the happiness of someone in your life? What is something they really want to do but you want no part of? Might be a good start.
9. Let go of your judgments so that your partner feels safe enough to tell you anything
It’s not easy to let go of judgment. I was highly judgmental during my marriage and I now have a divorce under my belt to prove how much of a problem it can be.
When you let go of judgment however, you stop wanting to control people. This is a huge relief and can free you from a lot of stress. If you want to learn to let go of judgment, see item #4. Also, listen to this episode of The Overwhelmed Brain.
If you give your partner a “safe zone” to express anything and everything to you, they are a lot less likely to lie and a lot more likely to share hard truths with you. Hard truths are truths we don’t want to share because we know they will upset someone. However, having a partner to be able to express a hard truth to can really strengthen the bond and make you feel safe, accepted and loved.
Lesson: During an argument with someone you love, let them vent all about you. Let them call you names and let them get it out of their system. Once they are done, thank them for sharing their thoughts and feelings and ask them if they want to share any more. They will probably think you’re up to something, but tell them you wanted to give them the space to say anything they needed to say. Don’t respond or reply to anything they’ve said unless they ask (this will be a huge challenge for you).
When they know they can tell you anything, they will feel more loving, trusting and safe with you – which leads to number 10.
10. A relationship can never be its potential if you have not built a foundation of trust
If you do not have a foundation of trust, your relationship will not survive or thrive at the level you want it to. Trust leads to safety leads to allowing your partner to be vulnerable and connected. Take away trust, and you take away a support column that holds up the whole emotional structure.
If trust is in question, it needs to be rebuilt. That may involve continuously showing up in a trusting, congruent way so that you reinforce in your partner that you are a trustworthy person.
If you can’t get to a foundation of trust, you can’t experience the relationship to its fullest.
Lesson: Learn to trust your partner more even if you have insecurities. Notice if their behavior changes when you don’t ask them the same questions you used to. Notice if they act nicer if they realize that you are no longer acting suspicious or distrusting. See where it leads.
Remember, none of these components will be very helpful if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. One who calls you names and makes you feel bad about yourself is not supporting your happiness and probably cannot be trusted.
This list works both ways and must be practiced by both of you. If one of you practices it and not the other, your relationship will be out of balance. A relationship requires a team to maintain and grow just like a company. One person can’t do all the work.
When you both contribute, you gain the most rewards and increase your chances of a long-lasting, satisfying relationship.