When you’re in the thick of a relationship, it can be tough to tell how well things are actually going. After all, emotions can totally cloud your judgment and being in love with your S.O. doesn’t exactly guarantee that your relationship is going to work out in the long run. It’s easy to overthink the little things: Do you argue too often? Are you spending too much (or too little) time together?
If you’re unsure where you stand, it might be time to take a step back and listen to the experts. Here, we turned a relationship therapist, clinical psychologist, and psychotherapist to find out what really matters most in determining a healthy relationship. Spoiler: It doesn't matter if you’ve been together for six weeks or six years. These are the signs you and your S.O. are in a healthy, happy relationship.
You’re the Presidents of Each Others’ Fan Clubs
“The biggest sign of a healthy relationship is mutual respect,” explains Devon Berkheiser, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist who works with couples. How can you tell if the right level of respect is there? For starters, you should genuinely admire your S.O.’s best qualities and recognize that they have needs, wishes, and desires that are separate from your own, she says. For a relationship to be healthy, these feelings should be mutual.
You Actually Love Spending Time Together
If spending time with your S.O. makes you feel stressed or you find that you’re feeling more negative emotions with them than positive ones, that could be a warning sign of an unhealthy relationship. “It’s important to genuinely enjoy spending time with each other,” Berkheiser says. “Of course, there will be times when you feel annoyed by your partner, but in general, it’s important to like who they are as a person.”
But You’re Also Independent
Just because you like being together doesn’t mean you have to be together all the time. In fact, it’s healthier not to be joined at the hip with your partner. “It’s really important to the relationship that there is time apart spent in enjoyable activities—outside of work,” says Teresa Solomita, LCSW-R, a relationship therapist in New York City. It’s also crucial to be happy for your partner when they’re away, she says. “It allows the relationship to breathe and expand; it builds trust and the relationship becomes more three-dimensional.”
Plus, time together becomes more valuable when you’re not around each other constantly, and you’ll have more experiences to retell, share with each other, and bond over. So go ahead, have a self-care weekend while your S.O. goes to that wedding or weekend trip with their friends that you’re not really that excited about.
Conflict Doesn’t Faze You
Some people think that never fighting is a sign of a healthy relationship, but the truth is that it’s actually important to disagree. “Conflict is normal and nothing to be afraid of, as long as you’ve got the right tools to manage it,” explains Sepideh Saremi, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist who treats couples in Redondo Beach and Beverly Hills, California. “Arguments are a very natural and important part of a healthy relationship and a great opportunity for increased closeness.”
One major caveat? Disagreements need to be respectful. Being assertive and being aggressive are very different things, so it’s important to make sure you’re both sticking up for your points of view rather than attacking each other. Still, it’s not such a great sign if you never, ever fight. “I’d be curious how a couple that never argues expresses their needs,” says Saremi. “Often, the couple that never argues is disconnected in some way or communicating in a passive-aggressive way.”
Often, the couple that never argues is disconnected in some way or communicating in a passive-aggressive way.
Sex Is a Low-Stress Topic
Obviously, intimacy is an essential part of any healthy relationship, but it’s important to know that “there is no benchmark for a ‘normal’ frequency of sex when you’re coupled up,” says Saremi. “All couples are different, and it’s normal for frequency to ebb and flow with things like stress or big life changes.” What should be focused on instead, she says, is how satisfied each of you is with your sex life. It’s tempting to avoid talking about sex since it can be uncomfortable, but Saremi says it’s worth checking in every now and then. If you’re able to do this in a way that doesn’t make you feel stressed or anxious, chances are your relationship is pretty healthy.
You’ve Made a Positive Change Because of Your Partner
“While each partner must accept the other’s limitations, life is better all around when we continue to challenge ourselves and grow,” says Solomita. “Supporting your partner in a loving way around their personal development comes back into the relationship in spades!” Likewise, when your partner encourages you to grow by taking on a new project or hobby that interests you—whether it’s finally going for that promotion, getting into a new workout routine, learning to cook healthy meals together, or getting involved in a non-profit organization—your relationship grows, too. “When we challenge ourselves in new ways, we bring this personal growth and maturity back into the relationship and it benefits our partner.”
You Feel Good About Yourself
It’s like they say: In order to love someone else, you have to love yourself first. “It’s hard to have a healthy relationship if you don’t feel worthy of love,” Berkheiser notes. Plus, she points out that “people who struggle with self-esteem issues may be more likely to get into unhealthy relationships in which they are treated poorly, and they may have difficulty standing up for themselves and asserting their own needs.” Struggling with self-esteem also makes it more likely that you’ll deal with jealousy and other problems in your relationship, so having a positive self-image is a helpful asset in developing a healthy relationship.
What qualities do you think healthy relationships have in common?