Markers of a Healthy or Unhealthy Relationship
Most people identify frequent unresolved disagreements, arguments, a lack of trust, poor communication, and criticism, as markers of an unhealthy relationship.
When asked, most describe the attributes of a healthy relationship using the following terms:
- A strong and loving bond;
- Great communication;
- Exceptional trust;
- Ongoing commitment to resolving whatever life brings.
When the research is reviewed there are specific markers that are identified and categorized repeatedly as leading to a happy, healthy and satisfying relationship.
Leading relationship scientist Dr. John Gottman has identified specific signs and signals that lead to relationship breakdown and signal the coming to an end of a healthy relationship of any type. Following is a condensed version of Gottman’s summary of these markers titled “Predicting Divorce”:
- A Harsh Start-up: Being negative, accusatory or using contempt.
- The Four Horsemen:
a. Criticism: e.g. “Why are you so selfish?”
b. Contempt: Using sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, eye rolling gestures;
c. Defensiveness: Blaming the other person frequently, they are the problem not me;
d. Stonewalling: Shutting out further discussion. It may be important to note that men tend to do this more than women.
- Flooding: When your partners’ negativity is often so overwhelming that they disengage to protect themselves.
- Bodily Reactions: Physiological changes that happen within the body (such as significantly increased heart rate and blood pressure along with other strong chemical changes in the body and the brain) impairing the person’s ability to process information.
- Failed Repair Attempts: One partners attempts to repair ongoing conflicts fails frequently.
- Bad Memories: When the couple views the past in a negative light to the degree that they mentally “rewrite” or distort their past.
What are the Signs of a Healthy Relationship?
There are a lot of common markers for understanding what makes an unhappy relationship better and what makes a good relationship a happier and healthier relationship.
- Complain and Communicate Constructively: Partners are careful how they present their complaint, the words they choose and the tone of the voice they use.
- Share Your Concerns: Partners need to tell each other how they feel and what they need. If feelings and conflicts are left unresolved, the opportunity for bonding and relationship intimacy is lost. Men often think that they are cooling things down when they refuse to discuss things and women often feel minimized when issues and concerns are not openly discussed.
- Be a Little Selfish: If you give and give until you feel resentful, trapped and imprisoned you are building a wall between you and your partner. Work on giving to yourself about the same or a little bit more then you do to your partner.
- Break the Cycle: With criticism often comes a defensive response. Criticism leads to partners feeling alone, disconnected and helpless to resolve the problem. To break the cycle, communicate with the end goal in mind, asking questions about what you would like to see change and develop, instead of identifying negative qualities about the other person that need to change.
- Fulfil Your Dreams: Dreams unfulfilled can lead to significant resentment. Talk about your dreams with your partner and create an action plan to make each of yours dreams a reality.
- Support Each Other: When black clouds descend on one partner (a death in the family, depression, career setback, significant and challenging life circumstance) be a person who is willing to listen and be compassionate in your partners’ darkest days.
- Communicate With Clarity: When you are making a request of your partner, or asking your partner to do something for you, communicate with clear expectations and if you are not clear, gently request clarification or further directions. E.g. “Sweetie could you please take out the garbage by tomorrow morning so that when the pickup comes it’s there with the rest of the trash.”
- Calm Your Anger: Regardless of who or what the issue may be, not being able to control your negative emotions, especially anger, can and will erode the positive feelings your partner has had for you. The person that the anger is directed at soon feels threatened and at risk, disconnecting the bond in the relationship.
- Take Time Together: Life can become busy, and regardless if you are a new parent, parents of teenagers or empty nesters, there is always something to be done, or busyness to take care of. Couples often end up exhausted because of the ongoing obligations of “life.” There will always be work to be done, or things to “take care of.” There will not always be opportunities to “connect” with the children, or your partner. Take the time for one other spontaneously or by building time into the calendar. The cost of neglecting the connection in your relationship is simply too high.
- Appreciate The Differences: Over time you will discover that your partner is different then you are and that you both have a different set of skills, talents and abilities. You can spend a lot of time, effort and energy trying to get them to do things your way or you can just accept their differences and make a plan to develop and appreciate the way these differences can complement each other in the relationship. Open a dialogue with your partner about these differences and find ways to resolve issues, remembering to focus on the issue not on your partner.
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